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Loreta’s Civil War: Some varieties of life

August 17, 2017

Throughout 2016 and 2017, Stillness of Heart shared edited excerpts from the extraordinary memoir of Loreta Janeta Velazquez, who chronicled her adventures throughout the Civil War — either as herself, as a Confederate spy, or in disguise as Confederate Lt. Harry T. Buford. She fought and led men in terrible battles, fell in love, bore and lost children, and traveled throughout the U.S. and Europe, ultimately fulfilling her childhood dream of a rich and adventurous life.

You can read the entire 1876 memoir online here. Learn more about Velazquez (and the incredible documentary film Maria Agui Carter made about her) here.

Read previous chapters of her incredible story here.

Part 68: Velazquez explores Mormon beliefs, enjoys a new friendship, and appreciates the beauty of her new home.

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To my great satisfaction, my husband at length got tired of working in this region and under so many disadvantages, and concluded to try his fortune elsewhere. He had quite a notion of New Mexico, which he thought held out inducements for fortune-seekers but I was beginning to be out of the notion of the whole business and was anxious to be among a different class of people from those who, for the most part, make up the population of the mining districts. There was so much outrageous swindling going on when we were there residing that I was disposed to regard almost any move as a good one and very willingly turned my face eastward again.

We went first to Salt Lake City, where we remained for some time, and I consequently had excellent opportunities afforded me for becoming intimately acquainted with a number of Mormons and of learning a great deal about their religion and their manners and customs.

The lady with whom I boarded had been an early convert to Mormonism, had resided at Nauvoo at the time the exodus was determined upon, and had been one of the band of emigrants, who, fleeing from persecution, had sought a home among the mountains of Utah. She had been one of twelve wives and was a strong advocate of polygamy. When she saw that I really desired to know something about Mormonism, not from mere curiosity but from a genuine wish to gain information that would enable me to form an impartial judgment, she took great pleasure in answering all my questions and in providing me with facilities for pursuing my inquiries.

She was a very intelligent woman, and her account of the persecutions to which the Mormons were subjected at Nauvoo, and the suffering and hardships they endured during the long and toilsome journey to a place where they hoped to be forever undisturbed, was most interesting. She had quite an extensive library, to which I had free access, and she took a great deal of pains in directing my reading and in explaining points which I found to be obscurely stated in the books.

As I was the only boarder in the house, my husband being away in the canyon most of the time, we were naturally thrown much together, and after we became intimate she took me into her confidence to an extent that she would not have done had we been comparative strangers.

Among other things, she showed me her Endowment robes, which she wore when she became a member of the Mormon Church. This dress consisted of a linen garment, something like a pair of drawers. It was very full and had a body and sleeves attached. Over one side a heart-shaped piece was cut out, and the edges worked with a button-hole stitch. Curious figures were also worked on the sleeves and on the left hip. The robe proper was something like a priest’s surplice. The slippers, which, like the rest of the dress, were of linen, resembled moccasins. A tall pointed cap with holes for the eyes, which is drawn down over the face during the ceremonies, completed this singular attire.

The decorations worn by the men while taking the oath were also shown to me. They consisted of a regalia of Mazarine blue silk, with a representation of the Temple of Solomon in the center and a heart surrounded by a number of emblems similar to those in use by the Masons. She told me that the oath was very similar to that which the Masons used, and that it was administered to both men and women.

During my residence in Salt Lake City, I became acquainted with Brigham Young, and a number of the bishops, and other prominent Mormons, and I formed a very high opinion of them. There certainly has seldom or never been so well-governed a people as the Mormons were before the Gentiles found them out and insisted on intruding on their domain. As for polygamy, it is a part and parcel of their religion and has the sanction of the same Bible that the Christians, both Catholic and Protestant, acknowledge, and I cannot see why the Mormons should not be permitted to hold their religious beliefs the same as other sects. I do not believe in polygamy myself, but if other people think it is right and choose to practice it, that is their business and not mine.

Whether polygamy, however, be right or wrong, there is this to be said in favor of the Mormons. The men marry according to the custom of their church, and they acknowledge and provide for the women who bear them children — which is a good deal more than a great many people who denounce polygamy and Mormonism do. The Mormon religion professes to be based upon the Bible, what they call “The Book of Mormon,” being merely a later revelation, and I have heard as good, sound, practical sermons preached in Salt Lake City by Mormons who worked hard all the week earning bread for their families as I ever heard anywhere.

I have listened to the preaching of nearly all the principal bishops, and I never heard any of them utter a word that was not good doctrine, calculated to make men and women better and more honorable in all their dealings with their neighbors. Most of these sermons were in a much more practical vein than some I have heard in fashionable churches a good many hundred miles eastward of Salt Lake City, but I liked them none the less for that, and I respected the preachers, for, so far as I was able to see, they practiced exactly what they preached and did not have one religion for the Sabbath and another for working days.

I never saw or heard of a gambling den or a drinking saloon being kept by a Mormon, and many of the degrading vices which flourish in Gentile communities were absolutely unknown in Salt Lake City when the Mormons were its only residents. Even now, the standard of morality is higher in this and other Mormon towns than it is in any place that I know anything about between Omaha and the Pacific coast, while in real thrift and industry the Mormons are out of all comparison superior to their Gentile neighbors.

These people went to Utah, hoping and expecting to separate themselves from the rest of the world in order that they might worship God in their own way without molestation, and they ought to be permitted to do it. Through many years of toil and indefatigable industry they transformed the barren wilderness into a blooming Paradise. Conducting the water down from the mountains, they succeeded in bringing the sandy plains, covered with sage bushes, under cultivation, and what was once a dreary desert is now fertile fields, yielding luxuriant harvests or orchards bearing the most delicious fruits.

During my stay in Salt Lake Valley, I boarded for several months in the house of Bishop Nilo Andrews at Sandy Station and was on very intimate terms with five of his six wives. They were all smart women, and their children were, without exception, fine looking, strong, hearty, and intelligent. The bishop was passionately fond of his children and took the greatest pains to have them well educated. His daughters he escorted to all public gatherings and entertainments that it was proper for them to attend and did all in his power to make life enjoyable for them.

The bishop was about sixty years of age and was as hale and hearty as a man of thirty. He was not a bit afraid of work and could get through an amount of it that would have shamed many a younger man. I never want to receive better hospitality than I did from him, and when he found that I was desirous of obtaining correct information about the Mormons, he expressed himself as willing to tell me anything I wished to know.

He was quite a learned man, and like all the Mormons I ever met, was thoroughly posted in the Bible and in biblical history, and was able to explain in a satisfactory manner the points of coincidence and differences between Mormonism and other religious systems. The bishop told me that the greatest pains was taken in the matter of religious instruction, and that men and women who could not read, and even quite young children, often knew most of the Bible by heart.

There are a number of sects among the Mormons, between which some jealousy seems to exist. Of these, the Brighamites, the Gadites, and the Josephites are the principal. What the differences between them are I never could exactly make out. Another matter I never clearly understood was the status of sealed wives. I could not comprehend by what theory a Mormon could marry a widow for her lifetime, while all her children born of the second marriage would belong to the first husband in the next world.

The city of Salt Lake is located on the banks of the River Jordan, a stream which connects Great Salt Lake and Utah Lake. It is about three miles distant from the mountains, which lie to the eastward. The streets are very wide and are, many of them, very handsome in appearance, being lined with cottonwood and sycamore trees and having streams of water running through them. This last is an especially attractive feature.

Most of the houses are well built and are very neat and pretty, being supplied with all the conveniences and comforts reasonable people can desire. Each house has a small garden and orchard attached, which are invariably kept in the best possible order.

Brigham Young’s residence is of stone and is surrounded by a wall. Over the entrance is a bee-hive, emblematic of industry, and over the large gate is a spread eagle. The house is plain and not at all pretentious, but it is neat and substantial looking. The walls of the office are ornamented with some fine portraits of Joseph Smith and other Mormon celebrities.

Brigham Young is a light-complexioned man, rather inclined to corpulency, but strong and hearty in spite of his years and the labors he has undergone. He has a large, full head, a keen blue eye, and an easy, affable manner that is very engaging. I found him to be a pleasant, genial gentleman, with an excellent fund of humor and a captivating style of conversation.

The great Tabernacle, which will be used for the purpose of worship until the Temple is completed, is an immense building which will seat fifteen thousand people. The pews are built in tiers, so that each person in the building can have a view of the altar. The altar is a large and imposing structure. In its rear is the organ and a space for the choir. This organ is the second largest in the world. It was built entirely in Salt Lake City. The work on the Temple is going on all the time, slowly but surely, and the expectation is to have it finished by the time of Christ’s second coming. He will then dedicate it, and it will be the great religious center of the world, where all true Christians will come and worship.

Every ward of Salt Lake City has its public school, and efforts are made to give every child a good practical education. There are four large hotels, three banks, three printing offices, a large, well-regulated hospital, numerous manufactories of various kinds, and several flouring and other mills.

There are several large towns in the neighborhood of the city, and new settlements are continually springing up. Springville, about fifty miles to the southeast, is a very beautiful place. At the time of which I am writing a railroad down the center of the valley was in operation, and two others were in contemplation.

The mineral wealth of Utah is practically inexhaustible. Iron, gold, silver, copper, lead, salt, gypsum, soda, arsenic, and slate abound in immense quantities. Salt Lake is a very large body of water, of a much greater specific gravity than that of the ocean. No living thing can exist in it, and in its deepest parts no soundings have ever been able to find a bottom. There are three islands near the middle of the lake, which are said to be rich in metals. In the southern part of Utah, called Dixie, cotton and cattle are raised. On the banks of the Sevier River are very fine grazing lands. The Mormons claim that there have been some discoveries of gold and silver made in this section.

Taking it all in all, my residence in Salt Lake City was both pleasant and profitable to me, and when the time came for me to say farewell to my Mormon friends, I did so with many regrets and with many wishes that they might escape persecution from their enemies. I could not agree with all of their religious doctrines, but I learned to regard them as an industrious, hard-working, and honest people, and as, consequently, deserving of respect and sympathy.

After a sojourn of a number of months in Utah, I prepared to journey eastward again, having scarcely bettered my fortunes, but having seen some varieties of life worth seeing and having gained some valuable experiences, not the least valuable of which was that mining speculations are things that people who have consciences should have as little as possible to do with.

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