Loreta’s Civil War: Some varieties of life

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

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.

Loreta’s Civil War: The gold fever

Gold and silver fever swirl around Velazquez, and her husband is not immune. She marvels at the different schemes employed to swindle the desperate settlers who share her aspirations for a new and better life.

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 67: Gold and silver fever swirl around Velazquez, and her husband is not immune. She marvels at the different schemes employed to swindle the desperate settlers who share her aspirations for a new and better life.

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Shortly after my marriage I made a flying trip to New Orleans, for the purpose of seeing my brother and some of my relatives. Immediately a rumor was started that I had run away, and when I returned I found that all kinds of stories had been set afloat about me. My reappearance, however, set them all at rest, and, as my husband and myself zealously attended to our own business and let that of other people alone, we were permitted to dwell together in peace.

When I got back from New Orleans, we purchased a snug little stone house, and I devoted myself to advancing my husband’s interests as much as possible and to making our home comfortable and attractive.

My husband, for a time, prospered in his mining operations, and, although there were some envious people who spoke ill of him and of me, we succeeded in gaining the esteem of such of our neighbors as were worth knowing and did not disturb ourselves about what might be said of us by those who were disposed to speak evil.

The city of Austin, which is near the center of Nevada, at this time (1868) contained from fifteen hundred to two thousand inhabitants, most of whom were in some way connected with the mines. There were about a dozen stores, one hotel, four or five lodging-houses, half a dozen restaurants, more drinking- saloons than I ever undertook to count, Catholic and Methodist churches, a Masonic hall, and five quartz crushing-mills — only one, however, of which was in operation.

There was any amount of speculation in mines and mining stocks and any amount of the worst kind of swindling going on all the time. Some of the mines were good ones but others were mere pretences and were worth nothing at all. Many of these bogus mines were sold to eastern capitalists by experts, who made a specialty of working frauds of this description.

It was while residing in Austin that I first heard the expression “salting” applied to mines and learned what it meant. Salting, however, was only one of a number of frauds that were practiced every day.

It grieved me greatly that my husband should be compelled to associate and to transact business with such scoundrels as the men about him. His partner, especially, was as worthless a scamp as there was in the district, and, as I felt certain that he would in time be held responsible for some of the doings of this fellow, I persuaded him to give up mining and to seek a home in some locality that offered greater advantages for living, as decent people ought to live, than Austin did.

My husband accordingly sold out his interest in the mines, and we removed to California, where we purchased a lovely place in the Sacramento Valley. This was just such a home as I had always sighed for, and I was perfectly happy in the idea of settling down and living a quiet, contented life for the rest of my days.

It was not to be, however. My husband had the gold fever, and he found it impossible to be satisfied with what would have satisfied most reasonable people. He was restless and irritable and was all the time anxious to be off to the mines again.

We had not been settled in our new home more than a few months, when, to my infinite regret, he insisted on starting off for the new Eldorado in Utah. He then passed a year prospecting in Bingham Canyon, Camp Floyd, Eureka, and Tintic, and expended all his money without achieving anything. He was then compelled to accept the foremanship of a mine in the Lucine district, and after he had been working in that capacity for some time was promoted to superintendent.

One of the members of the firm by whom my husband was employed was a gentleman, and was honest, as honesty went in that region. The other was a drunkard and a fraud of the worst kind. This man, some time before this, had started a settlement which he named after himself and had built a smelting furnace, all for the purpose of selling some bogus mines. He also perpetrated an infamous swindle on some English capitalists, in relation to a mine in Nevada.

The way the thing was done was this, and it will serve as an illustration of the kind of swindles that were constantly being perpetrated in connection with mines. He sent to Virginia and purchased some rich ore from the Comstock mine for the purpose of salting the mine which he wished to sell. This was a silver-bearing lead, but there was not enough metal in the ore to pay for getting it out. It was necessary, however, in order to effect a sale, to give the impression that it was very rich. The smelter, therefore, run out about three thousand bars, which were supposed to be silver, but which were in reality half lead.

These were hauled to the depot, where the persons who proposed to purchase could see them but after dark they were taken back to the mine, and the next day the teams took them to the depot again. This was done for three successive days, and the Englishmen, seeing such enormous amounts of metal, became greatly excited and offered a million dollars for the mine. The speculator refused, and then they offered a million and a half. This offer he closed with, and a day was set for the inspection of the mine.

The “dumps” were thoroughly salted, and arrangements were made for the assayer and mining expert to be in attendance. The proposed purchasers had their expert with them, a German professor from Freiburg. This professor had a large sack with him in which to put samples of ore, and when going down into the mine he gave it to one of the men to carry for him.

The speculator had on a large blanket-coat with immense pockets in it, which were filled with rich ore. The man with the sack was also provided with a small quantity to be used in case of emergency. Every time the professor put a piece of ore in the sack, so soon as his back was turned the speculator or his man would drop in some of the rich ore. The result was that when the assays were made, they rose from three thousand to fifteen thousand dollars to the ton.

The Englishmen were in ecstasies and insisted on the contract being drawn up immediately. Part of the purchase money was then paid down, and the rest was to be forthcoming in thirty days. When the thirty days expired the purchasers took possession, only to find that they had been duped in a most outrageous manner. By the time the discovery of the fraud was made, however, the swindlers had fled, and the Englishmen had nothing to do but to return to London with empty pockets.

One of them, however, tried his luck again in Little Cottonwood, in the Wellington district, but with no better success.

My husband was at this time superintendent of one of the Wellington mines, and I consequently had ample opportunities to study mining life and to become acquainted with the numerous frauds that were going on. I was also thrown in a good deal with the Mormons and was able to study their characters and manners.

Little Cottonwood Canyon is about twelve miles long, is very narrow and very deep. A stream runs down the middle of it, which is very swift in the months of June and July, when it is full, on account of the melting of immense quantities of snow in the mountains.

Tannersville is a town or settlement named in honor of a woman who kept a hotel or stage-station there. There was a mill and smelter at that place at the time of which I am writing.

Alta City, at the foot of the two canyons — Big and Little Cottonwood — is a town of rather more importance. When I was there it had three stores, a hotel, a couple of lodging-houses, a livery stable, and a large number of drinking-saloons. The dwelling-houses were mostly very small and were entirely invisible in winter, being covered by the snow. The snow usually commences to fall about the middle of September, but I have seen it in August. During the winter many parts of the canyon are impassable, except by the use of sledges and snow-shoes, and there is constant danger from avalanches, which carry everything before them.

The Wellington mine lost its foreman and a miner through an avalanche while I was there, and many men have lost their lives in this canyon, their bodies remaining buried beneath the snow until spring.

I doubt whether many of the mines in this district will ever be successfully worked. The Emma is one of the best, and I think could be made to pay if judiciously operated. This mine is situated in the side of the mountain and is almost perpendicular. On looking at it, it is impossible not to wonder how the owners ever reached it or are able to work it. I believe that there is an immense lead of silver here which will yet be unearthed.

This part of the country offers a rich field for the botanist and naturalist. The flowers are in the greatest profusion and are of every imaginable hue. They grow from the mouth of the canyon to some of the highest points on the mountains.

The wild cherry, the whortleberry, the serviceberry, the thimbleberry, and the dewberry are very abundant.

On the very summits of this immense range will be found clear blue lakes, filled with spotted trout. How they have managed to get there is more than I can tell.

When the highest points are reached, if one looks aloft the broadwinged eagle may be seen wheeling in the air, while upon the ground are the beautiful mountain squirrels, busily engaged in gathering their winter stores. I have often sat for hours and watched these nimble little animals. There are as many as six different varieties of squirrels, some of which are not larger than mice, while others, the size of the common gray squirrels of the Eastern states, are beautifully striped and vary in color from light gray to dark brown. The greatest enemies of these harmless animals are the eagle and the mink.

Large rats abound in the woods, as do also the brown weasels. These last-named animals are about eighteen inches in length from the nose to the tip of the tail. The head is small, and the eyes, which are very prominent, are of a soft, lustrous black. The weasels are very cunning and are especially destructive to the mice and squirrels. I have seen two old ones kill as many as six or eight mice in a day in my home and carry them, one at a time, across the ravine to their young in the woods. While carrying a mouse, however, should a squirrel appear, the weasel will throw down the mouse, and go after this fresh game, and then come back and get the mouse.