The unconventional approach taken by the authors of the book40 Ways to Look and Brigham Young makes for convenient and informative reading. They take an aspect of his personality, a particular way he was viewed by others, or simple hard data and put each into a series of 40 chapters. These chapters are not necessarily chronological but portray each trait, view or incident as it relates to the total man and his total life.
Below, I’ve listed some of the things I learned about him that may not have been common knowledge to the average Mormon:
- Brigham Young had more than 30 wives. Not all at once, of course, he outlived several and at least 10 and possibly 2 more divorced him. Two or three younger ones were only married to him while they crossed the plains and then divorced him. I guess marriages were a bit more “fluid” in those days. A divorced General Authority in the Church today is completely unacceptable. (Other GAs back then were divorced from plural wives as well. Orson Pratt eventually divorced his first wife.)
- Brigham was considerably enlightened when it came to dealing with the Indians. Although he said the Mormons were prepared to kill every Indian if necessary, he could not figure out why a man would shoot an Indian for stealing something when the Indian didn’t know any better and not a white man for doing the same thing who was taught it was wrong. The culture of the Indians was quite exasperating to Brigham, however, and he tried to convert and civilize them as best could be done.
- He tried to be a good steward of nature. When annual celebrations were held in the mountains commemorating the arrival of the Saints in the Salt Lake Valley, he personally stayed afterwards, alone, to make sure all the campfires were completely put out. He advised settlers to minimize the number of trees they cut down and encouraged sawmills and frame houses to make the most use of the wood. He went to great efforts to preserve City Creek Canyon in its natural state and lamented the creek’s necessary destruction within the city.
- Brigham was somewhat self-conscious about his lack of formal schooling, particularly his inability to spell correctly. (His spelling was really bad—even worse than mine.) This may have been a contributing factor in his development and encouragement of the Deseret Alphabet. One goal of this unique and totally phonetic alphabet (which was loosely based on short-hand techniques) was to aid foreign-language converts to be literate in the English language’s often irrational spelling conventions. Of course this idea was a total flop, but Brigham was certainly not unique in his attempt to make the English writing style more reasonable. He thought he might just have the power to start a revolution in this arena of society, being isolated as the Mormons were at the time. Didn’t have some conspiracy to control all, just wanted to take advantage of every perceived opportunity. Some ideas paid off, for the betterment of the human race, and others didn’t.
- Much more to come. (If I get around to it.)
- For a graphic I created that compares Brigham Young’s wives, when he was married to them, and how many he had at a given time, click here: Brigham Young’s Wives