Zerah Pulsipher Autobiographical Sketch #1

There are three known manuscripts of autobiographies written by Zerah Pulsipher. The most famous autobiography is actually a combination of the second and third autobiography manuscripts. This earliest known draft of an autobiography seems to have been written by Zerah Pulsipher in the early 1850s. It recounts stories of Zerah’s ancestors as well as his conversion and early experiences in the Church in New York and Kirtland. It covers similar events to the ones in his more famous autobiography but in different ways, often going into greater depth. Unfortunately, only about eight pages, plus two inserts on smaller paper have been preserved, though it appears that the original document would have been longer, as it stops in the middle of a narrative.

Typescript prepared by Chad L. Nielsen, July 2014. Spelling, punctuation and paragraphs retained as presented in the original.

Zerah Pulsipher
Zerah Pulsipher


I was <born> June 24th AD 1789 the names of my Parents were John and Elizabeth Pulsipher My Grandfather Pulsipher removed from C.t. in New england in the year 1769 but a season Previous to that he came to Vt. To a Town afterwards <called> Rockingham near Bellows falls on Conneticut River an entirely new country five miles west of the falls before a blow was struck by a white inhabitant he saught a Location and Predicted where the site for Town business would be done and where the Meting house and bureing [burying] ground would be he then selected five hundred Acres of Land which to this day remains to be the inheritance of many of his posterity the Meting house Bureing [burying] ground and site of Town business has taken place to the Letter According to his prediction Eighty four years before My Great Grandfather is supposed to be a descendant from Ireland and as observed above he Grandsire established a settlement and constructed the b<u>ilding into a fruitful field Established a Large Publick house wich remained for many years[.] when <the> revelution commened [commenced] in the spring of =75 my father being [torn] years of of age one day being absent from <home> heard A [torn] Distruction of the Military stores at Concord [illegible] and Battle of Lexington saught for a recruting officer and enlisted for before he returnd home and informed his father what he had done the old man being about fifty years old  after deliberating upon it and being aquainted with the usages of war on account of his experience in the french war said to him John you ar[torn] [aren’t old] Enough to go alone I will go with you accordingly he [torn] [did, and they both went] together[.] in June following the Battle of Bun[torn] [Bunker Hill was] faught they stood and faught side and side [torn] time after the orders were given for retr[torn] [retreat, and] knowing it my father looking round an[torn] [and seeing them] selves nearly surrounded said father, Look [torn, ink splotch] tleman turning round and said to [torn] [p.[2]] there was but a small gap then left that was not surrounded by the Enemy and the ground in <that> was continualy with the plowing with Balls from the Britis shiping but as they were going out my grand father saw an american soldier wounded crawling away upon his hands & knees and a brittish soldier coming up pierced his Body with a bayonet my grandsire being fired with indignation at such ingratitude so contrary to the usuages of war s<t>oped amid all the dangers and Perrils which he was there surrounded and deliberately sounded his gun and shot him down before he left the ground and then attained a safe retreat I merely mention these things that my posterity may under stand that their ancesters had the Blood of Liberty and Judgement deliberately exercised in times of the most Emenent danger for the avenging of the Blood of the Inocent and putting [torn] [down] oppression but as I observed my grandsire procured a safe retreat and remained for some months till taken with [torn] cramp Rheumatism in the Breast and died but my father served the campaign out and then returned home to his friends[. He] soon married and raised seven sons and three daughters was always a firm promoter of the rights of the Constitution of the united states with an energetick for Liberty and Equal rights of man he was remarkably persevering in the things he engaged in but all with the most canded deliberation his government was absolute in his family kind and friendly to his Neighbors and especially to <the> poor at least once a year he would go to some expense to make a f[torn]vite [feast and invite] the poorest People there was in the Town and [torn] [received] them with the greatest pleasure. I always had great [torn] my father altho he was remarkably persevering [torn]ily authority I was allways taught to read the Bible [torn] [observe] the sabbath I recollect one circumstance when I w[torn] Probably not more than nine or ten years old [torn] [my father] was taken sick and remained dangerous [p.[3]] & for some months altho I was not appraised of it one day there  were a number of the neighbors in I heard them saying among them selves that Mr. Pulsipher must die It struck me with astonishment I wondered if my father must die then and leave a large family of <children> to the open world without a head I <thought> upon the dangerous circumstances we should be in and was very unwilling to have it so affter a little reflection a thought come into my mind that I must go immediately to the barn and pray for him to get well altho I had never prayed in my life except being taught to say the Lord’s prayer but I did not hesitate one moment but ran as fast as me legs could carry me and when I got to the place was about to kneel down something whispered in my ear that if I [illegible] [stayed] I should die in that place and should never rise again. I was so supprised that I ran back as fast as I came

from that I had many reflections relative to thing seen and unseen I became considerably acquainted <with the Bible> and generally knew when [torn] it repeated correct[.] as for the Doctrene of Eternal punishm[torn] [punishment] I did not comprehend as the sects taught it to me it [torn-seemed]  inconsistent to me with the attributes of god as it seem[torn] many thing that were taught by the <sects> after careful investigation I laid them aside for further consideration and desired more light I often thought upon the Blesed privilege that saints had in [torn] [p.[4]] and the glory of the Millenium  when light and truth would fill the Earth. At length the time came when god should bring to pass the things spoken by the Prophets Accordingly in the summer of 1830 I heard a Minister say in Public that a golden Bible on some ancient Peoples were found in Manches<ter> N.Y.[1] the sentence thriled through my sistem like a shock of Electricity I therefore watched the movement of things and in sept. <of> 1831 the Book of Mormon was brought into the Town I suceeded in Borrowing it I read it through then times and thought Posible it might be true in Jan.ry following Jared Carter came to town my<self, in company> with two other Preachers went to hear him preach. I watched him remarkably close and found he said nothing that would conflict with scripture he would frequently take up the book of Mormon and declare it a Revelation from heaven it had a very strong impression on my mind But I did not know it to be so myself I therefore arose before the Congregation and said we had been <hearing> strange things and if true was to us of the utmost importance and if not so it must be a great delusion And in as much as it purports to be a revelation from heaven I believed that I could learn from the same source whether it was or not so I gave them my determination that I would engage with all the energy of <my> soul till I <knew> whether it was from god or not I therefore continued praying mightily to god for a number of days. At length one [torn] [day] as I was threshing in my barn with the doors all closed a ray of light filed my mind remarkably upon the Principles of the gospel I nearly beheld that what I had heard was true but it soon left me to ponder upon it I assumed my labor again but of short duration. Another bright<er> light presented from above with such masterly rays of glory filled to the running over it came with such magestty and power from above that I looked up to see from whence it came and beheld as I thought the Angels of god with the Book of Mormon in their hands informing me that was the great work of god that was to commence in the Last days to fulfil all the all the Prophecies that had been spoken on on that subject. I At length felt such inexpresible Joy and gratitude to my heavenly <father> that he had Brought forth the preparation for that great glory in the day in which I lived that I walk through my barn <crying> glory Hallalujah to god and the lamb forever and ever And I will observed <here> that about twenty years have pased away since that time [p.[5]] and I <had> been through nearly all the wars and Persecution that the People called Latter day saints have past through and have not yet found any thing to shake my faith. But to return to <my> Record in the winter of =32, after receiving such a display of the mercy of of god [I] Informed Br. Carter that I believed in the Gospel that he Preached and [he] answered if I believed I should be baptised[.] I informed him that I was not ready that I was connected with a Large Church of very kind and friendly Breathren and that I wished to see them together and inform them of my calculation

Accordingly I caled a meeting and when they came together they wished to know the meaning of the same I informed <them> that I wished to withdraw form the Churc<h> they wanted to know my reasons I informed them that I had <found that> gospel that I had been ◊anting for many years and was now prepared to engage in it with many other remarks which I made to them they wished to know if I would still Preach [illegible] <to them> after I should with draw I informed <them> I would as much as I Could but wished <[illegible]> spread it all over the Earth and I thought that many would believe it they finally gave me a very handsome Letter of Commendation and I withdrew I then went home informed my family and neighbors of my resolution and my [torn] and only Child that was old enough to be Baptised with three of my Neighbors [torn] the Ordinance as a Church of Latter day saints Br Carter wished to ordain [torn] Elder but I at first refused but after he had Baptised 19 there Came up a [torn]tion and he said he must Leave and if I would not be ordained he must have [torn] were but there being no church that I knew of nearer <then> two hundred miles I consented and Continued in that place to Preach also in the regions surround from thereby to one hundred miles with some success Baptism and many in that place andd some in allmost every place where I preached with signs following them that believed in the spring O Heid [Orson Hyde] and S[amuel] Smith came throu<gh> that Country to my great Joy and satisfaction as I was much in need of instruction they preached a number of times Baptised some <gave me Presidency of the Branch> and went on to the East[2] But as I had for some years Previous to this been acquainted with <many> of People in various parts of the Country there Preachers of Baptist Methodist  Reformers Presbyterian preachers came to try to get me out of the delusion some of them would <manage> [illegible] others gave <me> up for lost while some believed Me and were baptized Among the rest was a Methodist Preacher thought by many to be of considerable importance Came to me saying he was sick and wished to be healed I saw the Church he was of and asked him if he believed that the Methodist were [p.[6]] of the body or Church of Christ he answered in the affirmative I next asked him why he had left <the body & Church of Christ> them and come to an imposter to be healed but was not troubled with his company any longer than while he could not answer and return but I understood the poor man could not preach at his [blurred-church ?] appointment. In the fall =33 there was some division in the Church in consequence of teaching from an Elder that went through there which Teaching I rejected. (the Teaching was that women should have the gift of seeing that they might be able to discover the Mistakes that the Elders might make from time to time and furthermore that they might actually see what was in <their> hearts and if <they> had <any> hypocrisy to declare it before the Church to <this> calling I understood he ordained a number of the sisters who made use of this power to the condemning some & satisfying others without any other testimony) This caused me a Journey to Kirtland Ohio 325 miles in <the> month Dec<ember> to get a council of high Priests that would be able to try the spirits to the satisfaction of all the honest in heart I went to Kirtland as quick as I could traveled in the mud by day and rode in the slay [sleigh?]  at night arrived at that place the Last of Dec<br>. they immediately Called a conference and sent R[eynolds] Cahoon and D[avid] Patten who came with Leonard Rich and set things in order. in March following I removed to Courtland Co [Cortland County, New York.] preached some and labored to support my family in March =35 removed to shanang Co. [Chenango County, New York.] Preached [torn] numerous parts of the Country in May =36 Took a company and moved [torn] Ohio there Labored to support my family and build the Temple which was [torn] the next winter Dedicated and I received my first Endowment in the Temple with about 300 others we also attended many feasts that winter of Bread and wine In the fall of =37 I went on a mission to Canada Broke new ground Baptized 29 Members returned home in the winter <and was ordained a president of the seventy> of =38 that winter a heavey time of persecution arose the first Presidency fled for their lives and went to [illegible] with Many to Missouri (The winter Previous to I was ordained to the first Council of the Seventies) Most of the Church that <could> to get away went of that winter when a large number of the Poor Class <was left> behind there were a number of the seventies that continued to Meet together and at one time when twenty or thirty of us were together we agreed to Put our Property together and all fare alike and move to Missouri helping each other with all we had till we got through and our agreement felt a great degree of the <◊◊◊◊◊t> of god other heard of it and flashed into our Meting desiring to be received into the company they continuously kept [p.[7]]coming and among them the poorst of the poor that had not even Clothing to their Backs suficient to leave home. But we soon found that we had got a Job on hand that was not so easily got along with becaus those poor were in as good felloship with the Church as those that had gone <and> probably got through. There were seven of us who were engaged as council of that Camp Pres. Joseph Young, Henry Heriman [Harriman], Z[erah] Pulsipher, Josiah Butterfield, James Foster, Elias Smith, & Benjamin Wilber.[3] This seven set themselves at work to remove the Poor from Kirtland to Missouri in time of the Kirtland persecution in =37 and =38 without means ourselves or knowing where it should come from there were at this time about six hundred that were of this <pact> to remove near one thousa<nd> <miles> and feeling ourselves as inadequate with<out> the assistance of some higher power that should interfere we therefore saught the Lord in Prayer in the Atick story of the Lords house from two to three times per week that the way might open for means to affect the purpose. At length at one time when we assembled in prayer a Bright Looking Mesenger stood before me drest in a white robe stood Before me while we were engaged in Prayer he was an old man but very tall and strait with long grey hair that hung over his shoulders [torn]th curld at the end with a grave penetrating countanance with grey eyes [torn]ed his eyes from me to the other breathren and then to me again [torn]t leaning his head and then spoke and said be one and you shall have Enough this gave great satisfaction to find that the Heavenly mesengers were interested on our behalf a short time from this a man sent word to us that he would lend us $300 Dollars and donate fifty more on our mission we therefore obtained all we could in addition to this and sent to Buffaloe and Bought Cloths at wholesale and Clothed the Peopple alittle better A little circumstance which took place about that <time> I will now relate the Mob <were> very hostile all the time while we were preparing for three months our constant practice was to meet in the Temple for prayer one evening after we had retired home late some persons set fire to a Methodist Meeting house which stood near our temple and burnt it down allso  threw a brand of fire attacht to straw in to the temple window but this went out[.] the next day the cry was made that the Council had burned the Meeting house this was done for a pretext to destroy us but we paid no attention to it but steadily pursued our way at length one of the strong leaders of the Mob had a Vision and saw [document ends here, but two small additions on smaller paper were attached] [p.[9]]

1st Addition

  1. Page Here, I had many Controversies with sectarian Priests in as much as I did believe in there manner of Preaching and Punishme<nt> Pronounced on the People that did receive their faith and they accordingly Pronounced on me Tracts of Infidelity which were some of the Principles of the Fulness of the Gospel which we now Practice and Believe

2nd Addition

As soon as I saw the Preacher again I informed him that I knew the work to be of god and that the Book of Mormon was True he then if you believe then be Baptised I said I was not quite Reaedy as I Belonged to a Large Church and wish<ed> to see them together & withdraw in a proper manner I Caled a Chruch meeting they wished to know the cause of their coming together I arose and informed them that it was on my account that they were Caled Together I said that I had many times informed that the True gospel was not on the Earth if so I had not heard it and if it should come in my day that I should [leave] the Baptist and go to them and that I had now found it I also in formed them of the Open Vision that I had and its effects on me and wished they would releas me that I might go free [p.[10]] The Deacon then ordered the Clark to write me a good Recommend which he did then Brother Older then myself arose and withdrew Accordingly six of us went forward and was Baptised I think in January 1832


Pulsipher, Zerah. “Zerah Pulsipher autobiographical sketch,” undated. MS 753.3. Church History Library of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah.

[1] Silas Hillman recalled that, “a man by the name of [Solomon] Chamberlain came there [Spafford] bringing the Book of Mormon. He gave a history of its origin, how it was obtained, and its translation.” (Journal of Silas Hillman, cited in Rhean Lenore M. Beck, Life Story of Sarah (King) Hillman and Her Husband, Mayhew Hillman [unpublished manuscript, 1968], 8.)

[2] The journal history of the Church records that:

Saturday, December 22, Elders Orson Hyde and Samuel H. Smith returned to Kirtland, Ohio, from their mission to the Eastern States: Elder Orson Hyde, in summing up his missionary labor in 1832 writes:

“I was sent on another mission in company with Brother Samuel H. Smith, a younger brother of the Prophet…. We journeyed early in the spring of 1832, eastward together, without “purse or script,” going from house to house, teaching and preaching in families, and also in the public congregations of the people….

“We hastened on to Spafford, NY where there was a small branch of the Church; and by our ministry added 14 members. We then hastened on to Boston, Mass.” (Journal History, 22 December 1832.)

[3] Elias Smith and Benjamin Wilber were only temporarily functioning as part of the council


Zerah Pulsipher and the Utah War

One of the most pivotal events in the history of Mormon Pioneer Utah was the Utah War of 1857-1858. For the Mormons, the Utah Expedition brought an end to their semi-theocratic kingdom in the Great Basin. For the United States, this “war” drained the treasury and shaped the president’s reaction to impending southern succession on the eve of the Civil War. Zerah Pulsipher was a witness of many of the events of the Utah War as they unfolded and left a few recollections of what occurred. Like many accounts of the Utah War written by nineteenth-century Mormons, we see reverence for Brigham Young combined with the common experience of persecution and mob violence against Mormons shaping Zerah’s portrayal of the war. Historian Will Bagley has noted that the tradition that formed in Mormon portrayals of the war was that it was “part of an epic conflict between good religion and bad government, a story of persecution and vindication, and the triumphant tale of righteous warriors who marched with orders to ‘shed no blood.’”[1] This seems to apply to Zerah as well as any other Mormon.

Zerah was convinced that Mormonism was the true religion, and stated later in life that since his conversion in 1832: “I <had> been through nearly all the wars and Persecution that the People called Latter day saints have past through and have not yet found any thing to shake my faith.”[2] Included in this faith was the belief that Joseph Smith, Jr. was a prophet of God and the leader of the Church and Kingdom of God on earth. After the Prophet’s death in 1844, however, the matter of who was his legitimate successor was brought into question. The strongest option that presented itself was the Quorum of the Twelve, with Brigham Young at its head. Zerah, along with his family, chose to follow Young’s leadership, leaving Illinois with him in February 1846 and remained faithful disciples until their deaths several decades later.

Joseph Smith and Brigham Young statue in Nauvoo, IL.
Joseph Smith and Brigham Young statue in Nauvoo, IL.

Zerah yielded obedience to Brigham Young as the prophet-president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day for most of his later life. One early example of Zerah’s loyalty to Young came in a sermon preached shortly before they left Nauvoo, in which Zerah spoke of the Lord preserving the Quorum of the Twelve, and affirmed his support for following them, stating that: “Certain principles are enjoined on us at this time—to uphold the heads [the Quorum of the Twelve]—let there be a universal awareness that there is perfect safety and that they will live to a good old age and go down to their graves like shocks of corn fully ripe.”[3] Later—after Brigham Young had officially become President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—Zerah recorded his conviction that Brigham Young “stood at the head on all power on Earth for the Church of Latter day saints,”[4] and consistently portrayed him as such.

As an early American convert to Mormonism, Zerah also shared many of the experiences that shaped the views the Latter-day Saints held about non-Mormons in the United States. The memories of persecution in Illinois and Missouri were burned deep into Zerah’s mentality, scarring him, causing a continuing fear of further mob violence, and leaving a distrust of non-Mormon intentions. As American historian Richard Lyman Bushman has noted: “For half a century, the war [in Missouri] poisoned Mormon memory.”[5] Over a decade after the events of the 1839 Mormon War, “Z. Pulsipher spoke on the pers[ecution] of L.D.S. in MO & exhorted there who [had] not passed thru the pers[ecution] to rejoice.”[6] In a sermon given January of 1851 in Salt Lake City, Zerah went as far as to state that Joseph Smith’s “blood was spilt & now those very men who shot him want to shoot us.”[7]

Hauns' Mill by C. C. A. Christensen. Image courtesy Wikipedia
Hauns’ Mill by C. C. A. Christensen.
Image courtesy Wikipedia

One sees a further hardening of feelings towards the United States as a whole due to the lack of support the Mormons received in their troubles due to continuing mob violence in Illinois. After the violent death of Joseph and Hyrum Smith in 1844 Zerah’s son John recorded that, “The Whole nation is accessory to their death, because the murderers have boasted thro’ the States of their heroic deeds, and the first one of them has never been punished for committing that murder! And what is still more strange, is no man has ever been punished in the United States for killing a Mormon.”[8] Within two years, the remainder of the Saints fled Illinois. Seen through John Pulsipher’s eyes, the Saints were blameless while the United States as a whole was responsible for this injustice: “Just because we were Saints—our enemies were allowed to rob mob plunder and drive us from the pleasant homes that we have worked so hard to make, not satisfied with that, they would kill without cause and without fear, all seemed combined from the head of Government down.”[9]

These feelings were such that, when the United States came to recruit what has since been known as the Mormon Battalion—a move meant by the President Polk of the United States to “conciliate them [the Mormons], attach them to our country, & prevent them from taking part against us” by providing a means of dispensing hard cash to the Mormons—that the Pulsipher, like many other Mormon families, regarded the move as a plot against the Mormons.[10] Zerah commented that he thought the recruitment came “through the influence of Old Tom Benton who was a noted mobber in the first Missouri persecution and was then in the senate” and noted that it was a hardship for the Saints because “this left the church with old men children and many poor women while there husbans were fighting the battles of the united states.”[11]

Winter Quarters by C. C. A. Christensen
Winter Quarters by C. C. A. Christensen

The first prolonged contact with the U.S. Army in Utah—the Edward J. Steptoe expedition of 1854-1855—did not improve Zerah’s perception of the United States government and army. In a later autobiography, Zerah wrote: “About year =54 or =55 an Army came from the united states to the Valey commited some little depredations but were held at bay.” The depredations Zerah spoke of included incidents of public drunkenness and riot as well as fraternization with Mormon women. Most vexatious to the Mormons was the fact that upon departure the army was accompanied by as many as one hundred married and single Mormon women seeking an exit from the Church. This has been considered by historian William P. MacKinnon to be a “watershed in what by the end of 1855 had become an accelerating, potentially violent deterioration in Mormon-federal relations.” By the time Colonel Steptoe’s detachment left the Salt Lake Valley for California in May 1855, Brigham Young had vowed to never again allow federal troops into Utah and in proximity to its women.[12] Pulsipher recalled this feeling in his own way by recollecting a friendly conversation with an officer at Camp Floyd after the arrival of the Utah Expedition in 1858. In this conversation, the officer asked: “What did your people think they could do with 3000 men armed as they were[?]” Zerah’s response was that: “Our people patience had been so perfectly worn threadbare in consequence of the various depridations that had been committed by the other soldiers and strangers upon both male and female that they were hard to hold.”[13]

On the Utah War

Zerah’s recollections of the Utah War are better understood when the foregoing discussion of his belief in the divinity of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and obedience to its leader, Brigham Young, combined with the experiences that created something of a persecution complex in Zerah are kept in mind. Throughout his autobiographies, Zerah portrays the events of the Utah War as a vindication of his religion and people against a corrupt, Gentile nation. Pulsipher’s coreligionists are generally portrayed as doing no wrong while the actions of the United States are portrayed as a series of blunders that worked to ultimately help the Mormons. In Zerah’s eyes, the initial cause of the conflict was that: “Br[other] Brigham gave some strong prophetic language relative to <the> united states of America,” following which “the President and Congress became very hostile to us and <seemed> to have a design <to> form us like themselves or destroy us[.] Therefore they sent an army to bring us too or destroy us.” To make his feelings clear that the expedition turned out to be a blunder, he noted that in time: “The President and Congress saw their mistak in sending the army here notwithstanding they had charged us with treason and many other offenses. They sent commissioners here forgave all our sins against them and wished peace and tranquility.”[14]

Zerah viewed the Utah Expedition as a blunder on the part of the United States
Zerah viewed the Utah Expedition as a blunder on the part of the United States

It must be noted that in reality, while accounts of atrocities and horrors in Utah that inspired the Utah Expedition were greatly exaggerated in the States at the time, the Mormons were not completely guiltless. Poor interactions with Federal officials; mob action in Salt Lake City that resulted in the destruction of property belonging to Federal Judge George P. Stiles; the bombastic and sometimes violent rhetoric of the Mormon Reformation of 1856-1857; and the murders of William, Beeson, and Orrin Parrish along with George Potter in 1857 were causes of considerable concern to the U.S. government.[15] Still, in retrospect, those events were probably not sufficient cause to pit nearly one-third of the U.S. Army against the country’s largest, most experienced militia on the eve of the Civil War, resulting in the near-depletion of the U.S. Treasury; the forced resignation of a secretary of war; the bankruptcy of the nation’s largest freighting company; and severe damage to the reputation of the president of the United States and his nerve for confronting southern secession.[16] Yet, the blameless appearance of the Mormons in Zerah’s writings says much about his about his feelings towards his own people and religion.

When it comes to relating what Bagley referred to as a “triumphant tale of righteous warriors who marched with orders to ‘shed no blood,’” Zerah portrayed the Mormons as having the upper-hand throughout the conflict with the U.S. Army at their mercy. In relating the experience of the Mormon militia raiding the army companies and ensuring that they stayed the winter in Wyoming, he merely said that: “We found that it was not wisdom to let them [the Utah Expedition] come in that way” because they “had some appearance of hostility” and “we did not like their hostile spirit nor their habits.” So, he continued, “we were not willing to trust them to come in to our midst with those felings [and] we held them in the Mountains till we were ready to receive them.”[17] During the conversation with the army officer in Camp Floyd, he told the officer that:

It is my opinion that if the men of salt <lake> city were to fall upon you that they would dstroy you at a Breakfast spell and salt lake is but one city to a great many both north and south and west[.] I recollect at one time while in our Sunday meting while you were in the Mountains in the winter that <some> of the authorities wanted to let our men fall upon you but Brigham held them back and took that influence away saying that there were many in that army that were honest men and if we should destroy <them> we should do wrong therefore they were held back for further consideration and if they pleas they may thank Brigham Young for that.[18]

Snow march during the Utah War
Snow march during the Utah War

It is interesting to compare this confident assertion—written down after the War had concluded—with the journal entries of his eldest son, John Pulsipher, during the course of the war. At first, fear mixed with defiance shines through:

The news from this day [July 26, 1857] is that Hell is boiling over and the devil is mad. The US mail is stopped and an army is coming to kill us. Parley Pratt is murdered. . . .

August 16 . . . This looks like former times when we have had to leave our homes and hard earned possessions—but we are very willing to prepare for safety, for we have no confidence in the government officials.[19]

As events proceeded that fall, the Pulsiphers became a bit more confident: in late October, 1857, John “received a letter from brother Charles of the 17th. Says the U. S. Army, as they call themselves, are determined to come in—and say they are fully able to do so—yet he says we are whipping them without killing a man having taken their stock, burned their freight trains and now have burned Fort Supply and Bridger to save them from falling into their hands.”[20] When the army began to advance again the next March, however, John was not as confident about the situation: “The U.S. Army east of us have wintered very well and are threatening to come upon us and make a final end of all that will not join them. Truly this is a trying time, Destruction stares us in the face which ever way we turn.”[21] After an April 6 meeting with Brigham Young, though, John recorded that he “felt firstrate and perfectly satisfied as to the triumph of Israel.”[22] On his journal entries go, cycling through being fearful, defiant, and triumphant as events unfold. It seems that with the problem settled, Zerah was able to remember the triumphs more than the fear.

As the army arrived, Zerah—as a ranking official in the Church and as a city council member—remained in Salt Lake City to watch the army’s entrance into the city while the “women and children were moved to the south.” He owned property not far from the location of Camp Floyd, where the army settled after their arrival in the Territory. This was both a blessing and a curse for the Pulsiphers. It was a blessing because Zerah was able to meet a few officers in the army and found that “the[y] <were> disposed to be friendly” and that they “treated me very kindly.”[23] What is more, the Army provided economic opportunities and the chance to obtain badly-needed supplies. As Zerah recalled, after the army settled down and the Mormons were offered amnesty by the Federal government: “We all moved back to our possessions peacefully[.] In the mean time we were rather destitute of clothing but speculators followed the army and brought more goods to the Valey than was ever brought before so that this people were decently clothed[.] All this we considered direct from the hand of god to supply our wants.”[24] The capstone of this beneficial trading came when the camp was evacuated at the start of the U.S. Civil War in 1861. There followed what historian Leonard J. Arrington characterized as “probably the largest government surplus property sale yet held in the history of the nation.” Millions of dollars of property were sold for a fraction of their value.[25] Zerah recollections of this event were that: “After a short time they began to dwindle away Till they all left and left many thousand dollars worth of property which they <sold> for <a> trifling sums.”[26]

The Army Enters Salt Lake City
The Army Enters Salt Lake City

The army’s presence was also a curse in Zerah’s eyes because of poor behavior on the part of some of the soldiers and the moral influence they had on the people of Utah. He recalled problems with a Camp Floyd herdsman driving cattle onto the Pulsipher farm, causing some damage to his property, and noted “that a few [residents from Camp Floyd] would come into town some times and commit depredations for which <we> would chasten them.”[27] Historians James B. Allen Glen M. Leonard also observed that “the blessing was mixed  . . .  for all the vices of civilization also were introduced and nurtured by the army and its satellite community.”[28] On a similar note, Zerah commented—quite pointedly—that:

Evils have followed the army[—]such a herd of abominable <characters> have come in the wake that lying, horeing [whoring,] gambling, robing, stealing, murdering till it seemed as thoug they were determined to break up all law and order in the territory[.] They brought with them much spurious liquor which still furthered them in their abominations and <many> of our people who were weak joined with them in their wickedness especially the rising generation who imbibed their habits this gave us some trouble to labour and keep the church in order.[29]


This last statement seems to capture the motivations and drives that shaped Zerah’s portrayal of the Utah War quite well. Concern for preservation of private property, morality, and order in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with Brigham Young at its head caused Zerah to portray the Utah War as a tale of conflict between righteous faith and corrupt government. His belief in the leadership of his prophet-president Brigham Young and repeated experiences of mob violence colored his perceptions of the war as the persecution and vindication of a Godly but hated people. In this regard, Zerah Pulsipher’s recollections of the conflict match many other Mormon reminiscences of their glorious defeat of “Johnston’s Army.” Whether right or wrong, these portrayals reflect on both shared experiences of the Utah Mormons and their obedience to President Brigham Young.

President Brigham Young
President Brigham Young

For a slightly different version of this essay, which took first place in the 20th annual Arrington Writing Award competition held at Utah State University click here.


[1] Will Bagley, introduction to At Sword’s Point, Part 1: A Documentary History of the Utah War to 1858 by William P. MacKinnon (Norman, OK: The Arthur Clark Company, 2008), 13.

[2] Zerah Pulsipher, “Autobiographical Sketch,” undated, MS 753.3, Church History Library (Church Archives), Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah, 4.

[3] Minutes of 11 January 1846, Meeting of Seventies, notes by Thomas Bullock, in Historian’s Office general church minutes 1839-1877, CR 100 318_1_48_5, Church History Library (Church Archives), Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah.

[4] Zera Pulsipher record book, circa 1858-1878 MS 753 1, Church History Library (Church Archives), Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah, 2.

[5] Richard Lyman Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, with the assistance of Jed Woodworth (New York: Vintage Books, 2005), 372.

[6] Minutes of 1 September 1850, Meeting in Bowery, Salt Lake City, in Historian’s Office general church minutes 1839-1877, CR 100 318_2_36_8, Church History Library (Church Archives), Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah.

[7] Thomas Bullock, booklet (#10), 12 January 1851, in Historian’s Office general church minutes;1846-1850, CR 100 318, Church History Library (Church Archives), Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah.

[8] John Pulsipher, Journal, 28.

[9] John Pulsipher, Journal, 29-30, emphasis added.

[10] John G. Turner, Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2012), 150.

[11] Zera Pulsipher record book, 24.

[12] William P. MacKinnon, At Sword’s Point, Part 1: A Documentary History of the Utah War to 1858 (Norman, OK: The Arthur Clark Company, 2008), 48-50.

[13] Zera Pulsipher Record book, 57.

[14] Zerah Pulsipher Record Book, 26-27.

[15] See Thomas G. Alexander Utah: the Right Place, revised edition (Salt Lake City: Gibbs-Smith Publisher, 1996) , 125.

[16] MacKinnon, At Sword’s Point, 17.

[17] Zera Pulsipher Record Book, 27, 56.

[18] Zera Pulsipher Record Book, 57-58.

[19] John Pulsipher, A Mormon Diary as told by John Pulsipher, ed. Donald Neil Burgess (Idyllwild, CA: M3RDPOWER Press, 2006), 100-101.

[20] John Pulsipher, A Mormon Diary, 105.

[21] John Pulsipher, A Mormon Diary, 109.

[22] John Pulsipher, A Mormon Diary, 110.

[23] Zera Pulsipher Record Book, 56-57.

[24] Zerah Pulsipher, Record book, 26

[25] Leonard J. Arrington, Great Basin Kingdom: An Economic History of the Latter-day Saints 1830-1900 (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1966), 197-199.

[26] Zera Pulsipher Record Book, 56-57.

[27] Zera Pulsipher Record Book, 58.

[28] James B. Allen and Glen M. Leonard, The Story of the Latter-day Saints, 2nd ed. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1992), 318.

[29] Zera Pulsipher Record book, 26-27.