The Pacific Mission: 1851–57

Richard O. Cowan and William E. Homer, California Saints: A 150-Year Legacy in the Golden State (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1996), 185–206.

During the same years that Latter-day Saints were establishing and maintaining their colony in San Bernardino, the Church’s focus in Northern California changed from gold mining and “not much public preaching” to public dialogue and missionary efforts both in the Golden State and beyond.

Elder Parley P. Pratt in San Francisco

Elder Parley P. Pratt was the third apostle to come to California in 1851. On 23 February, at the same meeting in which the First Presidency appointed Elders Amasa M. Lyman and Charles C. Rich to their San Bernardino missions, Elder Pratt was set apart to preside over the “islands and coasts” of the Pacific. [1]

Parley P. PrattParley P. Pratt

Specifically, he was charged “to open the door and proclaim the Gospel in the Pacific Islands, in Lower California and in South America.” [2] He traveled with the large wagon train which went to San Bernardino and arrived in Southern California in early June. During the next several days at Los Angeles he sold his animals, wagon, and other gear to raise money. On Sunday, 29 June, he “preached in the Coarthouse in Los Angelos, to Some forty attentive hearers, Mostly American Gentlemen.” [3]

Parly P. Pratt

After about a month in Southern California, Elder Pratt and his wives, Phoebe and Elizabeth, took the steamboat Ohio from San Pedro and arrived in San Francisco alter a rough four-day passage. There he established mission headquarters and renewed old acquaintances made in New York City. The following day, Elders Lyman and Rich arrived from Southern California, hoping to raise money for San Bernardino. In numerous meetings the three apostles rekindled the San Francisco Saints’ faith. In the ocean near present-day Fisherman’s Wharf, Elder Pratt rebaptized most of the Brooklyn Saints still in the area. These immersions represented new beginnings and a recommitment to faith, righteousness, and “membership . . . in all their standing.” [4]

Included in this group were George and Hannah Winner, at whose home the San Francisco Branch of the Church was reorganized, with Elder Pratt as president and Philo B. Wood as clerk. [5] In August, the branch began meeting in a large room on the second floor of Barton Mowry’s home on the corner of Broadway and Powell Streets.

During this period, Elder Pratt found some time to study and write. He began his noted Key to the Science of Theology, authored a “Proclamation of the Gospel” to “the People of the Coasts and Islands of the Pacific,” and studied Spanish to prepare for a missionary trip to South America.

After about a month in San Francisco, Elder Pratt reported to Brigham Young that “several new members are being added—some of whom are young people of the old members, and others are strangers from different countries. We are upwards of fifty members in number [about one-fifth the number on the Brooklyn]. We have preaching twice a day on Sundays in a large theatre in the centre of the city, and prayer meetings on Sunday and Thursday evenings. Strangers give good attention. The members feel well, and are full of faith and the good Spirit.” [6]

One of the converts was Col. Alden M. Jackson, a Mexican War veteran assigned to the Customs House and for whom the California city of Jackson was named. He was a friend of Brooklyn passenger Carolyn Joyce, who had loaned him a copy of the Book of Mormon. The Pratts lodged in Mrs. Joyce’s home, and on one occasion Elder Pratt and Colonel Jackson stayed up all night discussing the book. When daylight broke, Jackson declared he was converted. He also was baptized at the spot near Fisherman’s Wharf. Mrs. Joyce and Colonel Jackson were later married in San Bernardino. [7]

Samuel Brannan Disfellowshipped

As the apostles revived the faith of the Saints, there was one striking exception: Samuel Brannan. When Elder Pratt arrived, Brannan was devoting considerable energy to San Francisco’s famed vigilante movement. A 9 February 1851 beating and robbery of a leading merchant stirred hostile demands for more effective justice. Two suspects were apprehended and identified by the merchant from his hospital bed. They were jailed, and Brannan’s voice was loudest in crying for an immediate hanging. However, the two were never tried. Upon interrogation, one claimed that he was a victim of mistaken identity—that he was a British citizen, not an Australian criminal. The two remained in jail.

Then, following the fire of Saturday, 3 May, San Francisco citizens mounted a “determined search for arsonists, with Samuel Brannan organizing a volunteer police department to aid in such investigations.” [8] This gave rise to the Vigilance Committee, “organized under the fiery, coarse-grained, and erratic yet resolute and influential Sam Brannan, as president of the executive committee, or directing council and court.” [9] Two days later, the vigilantes began dispensing their unique brand of justice. On the evening of 10 June, George Virgin left his office near the Long Wharf to check on the sailing time of a vessel. As he was returning, “he saw a man hastily rowing away from the wharf in a small dinghy. In the same dinghy he also noticed his office safe! Virgin’s shouts attracted the attention of other merchants and boatmen, who took out after the thief. The man in the dinghy managed to pitch the safe overboard just before he was apprehended.”

Early civic leaders (left to right): Jacob P. Leese, Talbot Green, Thomas O. Larkin, Samuel Brannan, and W.D.M. HowardEarly civic leaders (left to right): Jacob P. Leese, Talbot Green,
Thomas O. Larkin, Samuel Brannan, and W.D.M. Howard

As the men prepared to take the thief—whose name was John Jenkins—to the police station, George Schenck, who only a few days earlier had joined the Vigilance Committee, “had a better idea. . . . He suggested bringing Jenkins before the vigilantes, who had their headquarters in a group of vacant offices on the corner of Bush and Sansome Streets, in the building that also housed Sam Brannan’s real estate brokerage.” The rest of the men agreed.

The sight of a live Australian thief stirred up the vigilantes, who so far had not done very much except draw up a long constitution and give themselves secret numbers. George Oakes, who had been one of the organizers of the committee, was also a foreman of Empire Engine Co. No. 1. He went out and rang the firebell, the prearranged signal for the vigilantes to assemble. When about thirty men had arrived, a trial was at once called in order, with Schenck as the prosecutor and Brannanas the chief judge. No one seemed to think there was any need for a defense attorney.

Around eleven at night, the vigilante court found Jenkins guilty of theft and sentenced him to death by hanging. By this time a crowd of curiosity seekers had gathered outside and was buzzing with rumors. Brannan came out and harangued them about the inadequacies of the law and told them that he and some others had decided that the time had come to take the law into their own hands. At half-past one, Jenkins was led by guntoting vigilantes to Portsmouth Square. A rope was thrown over the beam of the old adobe customs house and a noose was strung at one end of it. The noose was placed around Jenkins’s neck; affecting indifference, he continued to smoke a cigar.

Then there was a moment’s hesitation, but it was broken by Brannan’s cry, “Every lover of liberty and good order lay hold of this rope!” A group of men responded by grabbing the rope. They jerked it down, broke Jenkins’s neck, and lifted him off the ground. After a while they tied the rope to a post and kept Jenkins strung up all night. At dawn they allowed the coroner to cut him down. [10]

The committee also hanged three others that summer. One of these, another Australian, seeing that death was imminent, confessed on 11 July that he was one of the men who had beaten the merchant the previous February. He and the man who was erroneously arrested were look-alikes, both with British accents. Had the hasty, immoderate Brannan prevailed, an innocent man would have been hanged.

Many of Brannan’s contemporaries, including the historian Hubert H. Bancroft, praised Brannan and the Vigilance Committee for using restraint in rescuing a lawless city controlled by criminal gangs. However others, including more recent historians, have raised questions about the vigilantes’ motives. [11] Parley P. Pratt was appalled. At a sacrament service and business meeting held in the Mowry home on Monday evening, 1 September, Brannan was once again disfellowshipped, this time by Elder Pratt “for a general course of unchristianlike conduct, neglect of duty, and for combining with lawless assemblies that commit murder and other crimes.” [12] Elder Pratt later reflected that Brannan was an impediment, “a corrupt and wicked man, and had the Church and myself been less long suffering and merciful [in New York during 1845], it would have saved the Church much loss, and, perhaps, saved some souls which were corrupted in California, and led astray and plundered by him. I have always regretted having taken any measures to have him restored to fellowship after he was published in Nauvoo as cut off from the Church. However, if I erred, it was on the side of mercy.” [13]

Church Progress Continues

At the same meeting in which Brannan was disfellowshipped, Elder Pratt was released as president of the San Francisco Branch. George K. Winner was sustained in his stead. Taking his pregnant wife, Phoebe, with him and leaving behind his other wife, Elizabeth (whom he had been introducing as his sister), Elder Pratt departed on a boat for Chile four days later. Elizabeth apparently stayed with friends near San Jose.

Following some rather unsuccessful months in Chile, Elder Pratt and his party returned to San Francisco on 21 May 1852. The next few weeks were occupied in writing letters to the various missions and preparing for a trip home to Utah. Elder Pratt met with the Saints in San Francisco and near Mission San Jose and found them “endeavoring to serve the Lord, and to set good examples of Life, and they met often, to worship and Edify each other and as many as came to their meetings.” [14]

He sought to convince others to gather with him to Utah but was able to persuade only three to join his party. “I urged the principles of Gathering, with all the energy of the Gift of God within me,” he recorded in his diary, “but all seemingly almost in vain. The World and the Gain thereof Seemed to have a Strong hold and influence over them.” [15] Late in July Elder Pratt and his group took a steamer to Southern California and spent over a month with the San Bernardino Saints. They then returned to Utah, arriving home on 18 October.

On 30 June 1852, just before Parley P. Pratt left San Francisco, his relative, Addison Pratt, and Benjamin Grouard returned from their South Seas missions. Being destitute, the newly returned missionaries’ families found work wherever they could. Addison harvested crops for John Horner at Mission San Jose. His wife remained in San Francisco where she took in tailoring work. The older Pratt children also found jobs to earn money.

These missionaries found their return to be a difficult adjustment. In Polynesia they had been the leaders who directed their converts’ activities and who guided their faith. Now they became the followers. Addison found the principle of plural marriage, announced publicly just after his arrival, to be a difficult test. Addison’s wife, Louisa, “would wish her husband to demonstrate his faith by adhering to the principle.” [16] In September, the Grouards went to San Bernardino, and by December, Addison had decided to take his family there as well.

The regular conferences which the Church held every six months were especially helpful in promoting unity and in increasing faith. In the absence of higher officials, John Horner presided over the April mission conferences of 1853 and 1854, which were held at his home near Mission San Jose. A vote to sustain Church leaders was a regular part of these and all conference meetings. There was also a report of Church activities throughout the mission. Because the branch “was not very lively,” missionary William McBride, “who had raised up a branch of the Church in Santa Clara,” implored the Saints in Mission San Jose to overcome “the spirit of apostasy” and other “evil influences which manifested themselves.” [17]

In the April 1854 general conference in Salt Lake City, Parley P. Pratt was called to another term as mission president in California. Several others were called to missions in the Hawaiian Islands. Elder Pratt left Salt Lake City on 5 May, joined by twenty-three other men and one woman.

One of those men was young Joseph F. Smith, son of Joseph Smith’s brother, Hyrum, who had been shot and killed when the boy was just five years old. Early in his life he had to assume the duties of a man, which included driving the family’s team of oxen across the Plains. His mother having just died, young Joseph was now an orphan as he headed out for a foreign mission at age fifteen. Nearly half a century later he became the Church’s sixth president.

Young Joseph F. Smith was destitute when he reached San Bernardino, so along with William W. Cluff, another young missionary on his way to the Islands, he went to work making shingles for one of the Saints in the mountains. He then went to San Francisco, where he tried preaching but was bothered by the impertinent things some people implied about his father. He sailed to Hawaii on 8 September.

After spending a few days in Southern California, Parley P. Pratt continued on to San Francisco, arriving there on 1 July. About a month later, George Q. Cannon, Henry W. Bigler, and others who had been sent out by Elder Charles C. Rich four years earlier, returned from their Hawaiian missions. Elder Pratt advised most of them to remain in California until the following spring to earn funds for their trips home. Although times were hard and many people were out of work, most of these elders were able to find employment across the Bay digging potatoes for John Horner. Elder Cannon stayed forty days and helped Elder Pratt write his autobiography. He returned in October to Utah via San Bernardino.

This pattern of missionaries passing through San Francisco on their way to or from missions in the Pacific became increasingly common during the 1850s. At one point, mission authorities even bought their own ship to transport the elders as well as immigrating converts. “An old sea captain” was employed and the missionaries were the crew. When the captain ordered the missionaries to do things they considered “below their dignity and unbecoming to ministers of the Gospel,” he almost had a mutiny on his hands. Soon the ship was found to be unseaworthy. Elder Pratt sold it at a loss and abandoned this plan. [18]

Late in August 1854, a colorful and amusing newspaper duel began between Elder Pratt and various Protestant ministers in the area. The 15 September Christian Advocate accused the Latter-day Saints of mistreating travelers who were passing through Utah. In a letter to the Advocate’s editor, Elder Pratt vigorously condemned what he considered untrue attacks against the Saints: “You know in your own hearts that you have published lies enough about the ‘Mormons’ to sink you and those who patronize your publications to the lowest hell with murderers.”

The editor sarcastically responded:

To have a man possessed of divine authority, and capable of raising the dead, threaten us so, is truly awful. Men have pursued us with bludgeons and revolvers before, but this thing of being sent straight to the bottom of the bad place, is a sprinkle more terrific than carnal weapons. . . . A few more such [letters] will cause us to retire to private life. [19]

Elder Pratt also confronted his antagonists in person. On 19 December he lectured on the subject of plural marriage at the Oakland Lyceum, holding forth until 11 P.M. A Presbyterian minister and others responded, but as Elder Pratt later reflected, “Truth was triumphant, and my adversaries confounded.” [20]

“Polygamy meets us everywhere,” Elder Pratt wrote to Church leaders in Utah, “and we are compelled to satisfy their minds on that before they can possibly be satisfied with our preaching, so we have met it in the press and pulpit and the spirit of truth has almost struck them dumb with amazement and wonder.” [21]

Elder Pratt summarized these events in California for readers of the Millennial Star, a Church newspaper published in Great Britain: “There is much agitation here, through the public press, &c. The Bible is openly renounced, to keep rid of ‘Mor monism.’” He asked the British Saints to pray for him “in this dark corner of the vineyard.” [22] Despite the confrontations and Elder Pratt’s gloomy rhetoric, the work of the Latter-day Saint kingdom went forward. Letters written by Elder Pratt to Brigham Young during the closing weeks of 1854 reflected this progress:

We have baptized three new members in the city of San Francisco, one in Union City, some twelve or fourteen in Santa Clara, San Jose City, Santa Cruz, Pajaro, etc., in connection with Brother McBride. Courthouses, schoolhouses, and other buildings have been kindly opened to us, and all our meetings have been well attended. Judges, lawyers, and leading spirits, and many others, have listened with attention to the old members in this country who are alive and rejoicing in spirit and doing all they can, as well as the new ones. I think there are some fifty active members in this upper country and there are many more candidates for membership. [23]

A month later, he wrote: “We have continued to interest a few in these parts and some are being baptized every week. . . . We have some good saints here, and the spirit of the Lord is upon us. We number in all this upper country some sixty or eighty members in good standing.” [24]

These membership numbers were about the same as they were three years before, despite the continual outflow to Utah and San Bernardino.

“All is well here among the elders and Saints [who are] wide awake and full of the Spirit of God as a general thing especially in San Francisco and Santa Clara. I never observed a better spirit or more faithful people according to their knowledge and the Spirit of the Lord is like a melting fire in our meetings.” [25] By the end of 1854 the mission had officially grown to 120 members in five branches. [26]

It was during this second term as California mission president that Elder Pratt met Eleanor McLean. She was one of several Church members who frequently brought provisions to the Pratts in San Francisco. Her husband’s hatred of Latter-day Saints created an incessant jealousy regarding his wife’s association with the Saints in general and with Elder Pratt in particular. This jealousy led him to pursue Elder Pratt and murder him in Arkansas just over two years later. [27]

Elder Pratt urged Church authorities to establish a newspaper in San Francisco. He published, in March 1855, a prospectus for the Mormon Herald but received “scarcely any encouragement.” [28] Deciding that he should return home to his family in Utah, on 16 June 1855 he set apart J. Crosby (probably Jonathan Crosby, husband of missionary Caroline Barnes Crosby) to preside over the San Francisco Conference (or District). Elder Pratt left four days later. [29] Before leaving, however, he crossed the Bay and spent a few restful days near Mission San Jose.

George Q. Cannon’s Ministry

While George Q. Cannon was a missionary in Hawaii, he became particularly fluent in Hawaiian. He was a member of a committee that decided to order a printing press to publish his Hawaiian translation of the Book of Mormon. Following the same route as Brannan’s press ten years before, it was shipped from New York around Cape Horn and arrived in Hawaii after Elder Cannon left. As Elder Parley P. Pratt consulted with mission leaders in Hawaii, “it was deemed the better plan to remove the press and the printing materials from the Sandwich Islands to San Francisco, California, where Elder Pratt intended to publish a paper.” [30]

He asked President Young to send George Q. Cannon back to California to help him. In response, Cannon was called in 1855 to publish the Book of Mormon in Hawaiian and to assist Elder Pratt in publishing his newspaper. Cannon traveled to California via San Bernardino and intercepted Elder Pratt while he was at Mission San Jose. Elder Pratt set Cannon apart as his successor, “to preside over the Pacific Mission, subject to the direction of any of the Twelve Apostles who might visit or be called to labor in that part.” [31] There were at the time three apostles residing in the area. One was the president of the Quorum of the Twelve, Orson Hyde, who had recently arrived in Carson Valley to preside over a colony there. The other two were Elders Lyman and Rich at San Bernardino.

George Q. CannonGeorge Q. Cannon

Parley P. Pratt never returned to California. George Q. Cannon, on the other hand, was a young man just beginning a long life of Church service, including significant experiences in California.

Elder Cannon’s first priority was to finish his Hawaiian translation of the Book of Mormon, a task which was completed 26 January 1856. Because those who set the type did not know Hawaiian, George, with the help of his wife, Elizabeth, proofread the entire text letter by letter. Two thousand copies of the book were then printed.

Next, on 23 February 1856, Cannon began publishing the newspaper Elder Pratt had suggested, calling it the Western Standard. In his prospectus, Cannon announced that the paper was “to be devoted to the interests of The Church of JESUS CHRIST OF LATTER-DAY SAINTS—to be an exponent of its doctrines, and a medium through which the public can derive correct information in relation to its objects and progress. Its columns will also contain items of general intelligence and the current news of the day, both foreign and domestic, which from our position, situated in the Queen City of the Pacific, we will be able to obtain at the earliest dates and in ample detail.” [32] The paper’s masthead carried the slogan, “To Correct Mis-Representation We Adopt Self-Representation.”

The Western StandardThe Western Standard

The Western Standard helped unite the Saints by giving them regular information about Church events throughout the area and by reporting other events from a Latter-day Saint perspective. Missionaries commented that the newspaper also aided them by providing helpful doctrinal articles. A non-LDS reader was prompted to write to the paper, indicating that he knew little about the Church but what he did know came from the columns of the Standard; he explained that he had inadequate information to say whether the Church was true, but he could say he liked the paper’s “bold and manly tone.” [33]

Nonetheless, criticism of the Saints intensified during Brother Cannon’s California presidency. For example, John Hyde, a former Latter-day Saint, addressed gatherings in San Francisco during December 1856 and January 1857. Cannon noted in the Western Standard that Hyde’s lectures were designated to “expose the workings of Mormonism and the great danger to be apprehended from the admission of Utah into the Union.” Hyde ridiculed certain Latter-day Saint doctrines and accused the Saints in Utah of immorality. The Pacific, a Protestant newspaper, noted that when Hyde had been in San Francisco as an advocate of the Church a few months earlier, he had preached to large audiences; but now his anti-Mormon speeches were given before only meager groups. The paper concluded, therefore, that in San Francisco it was more popular to advocate than to attack the LDS Church. [34]

The Work Spreads

During the mid-1850s, Latter-day Saint missionary work was extended into various Northern California locations. In 1855 Elder William Shearman went to the mining districts and soon became a leading missionary, finding converts in several places. In four months he and his companions “visited upwards of forty towns including the County seats of Amador, El Dorado, and Placer Counties” where they preached in the courthouses through the courtesy of local officials. They also preached in theaters, temperance halls, churches, ballrooms, and even barrooms. Shearman noted that the people were willing to listen to their message and that after hearing it once, they often extended invitations to the elders to remain and preach again—as many as five times. In their travels, these missionaries often depended on the kindness of the people for food and shelter. [35]

LDS activity in the mid-1850sLDS activity in the mid-1850s

Elder Shearman described the miners as being generally an “intellectual, independent, and generous hearted set of men.” They were accustomed to think and act for themselves. Even though indisposed to embrace any religious faith, they listened “with attention and respect, with but few exceptions.” [36] Elder David M. Stuart, Shearman’s companion, attributed their indifference and “spiritual deadness” to their preoccupation with the world’s wealth. [37] Elders Shearman and Stuart found Latter-day Saints scattered throughout the mining districts. Many privately acknowledged Church membership but preferred that it not be known openly. An outsider observed that “while they cherish a belief in the doctrines of their Church, they seem ashamed of the faith within them, and are frequently heard to disavow having any faith or sympathy in common with Mormonism. Away from Utah they become divested of moral courage, and . . . deny what they deem essential to salvation. I speak generally, and, of course, admit that there are honorable exceptions.” [38]

Occasionally, the missionaries reactivated members. At Wall’s Diggings in Sacramento County, for example, the elders found “a number of stray sheep.” The missionaries preached to them twice, rebaptized one, “and left a good warm feeling among the few brethren there, who promised to meet together and hold prayer meeting once a week.” [39]

At the October conference of 1856, Elders Shearman and Stuart reported that the sixty identified Latter-day Saints in the mining districts were generally in good standing. At the following April conference, however, Elder Shearman lamented that there were some who were not living their religion as they should. [40]

Mission president George Q. Cannon manifested early an interest in organizing a branch in the mining districts. In February 1856, however, Elder Shearman advised him that he was incapable of sustaining a branch at that time. He pointed out that the few members who would form such a branch were so widely separated by rugged terrain that “it would be almost impossible for them to meet together.” [41] To serve their needs, Elder Shearman traveled from camp to camp, keeping in touch with his scattered flock. [42]

There were also missionaries assigned to the counties north of San Francisco. At a conference held in San Bernardino in June 1855, Henry G. Boyle was set apart “to travel in the counties of Sonoma, Napa, [and] Yolo.” [43] Boyle fulfilled this mission until October, when he returned home. After working through the winter, he was called again to go to Northern California. He arrived in San Francisco on 22 April 1856. [44]

On 3 August, Elder Boyle reported to President Cannon from Napa City that his meetings were generally well attended and that a spirit of inquiry was manifested by many. He humorously related an incident which reflected a common attitude toward Latter-day Saints. Mr. Sheldon, a Methodist minister who did not know that Elder Boyle was a Latter-day Saint, called on him to address his congregation. Boyle gladly accepted this opportunity, and “it was only a short time until Mr. Sheldon found out that he had waked up the wrong passenger; at first he laughed, afterwards looked wild and somewhat confused, and then hastily commenced turning over the leaves of his Bible.” After Elder Boyle finished, Sheldon dismissed the meeting without comment. [45]

As a result of Elder Boyle’s labors, the Saints organized two branches north of the Bay. On 29 December 1856, Saints at Buckeye, Yolo County, held a baptismal service at Putah Creek. Elder Boyle baptized eight persons and confirmed them members of the Church. [46] One of them was fourteen-year-old Moses Thatcher, whose Latter-day Saint parents had neglected to have him baptized at the accustomed age of eight. [47] Two days after Moses’ baptism, the Saints met again under Elder Boyle’s direction and organized the Buckeye Branch. They chose Moses’ father, Hezekiah, to serve as the presiding elder over the branch’s eleven members.

Elder Boyle organized the second branch north of the Bay on 8 March 1857 at Dry Creek, Mendocino County, with twenty members. [48] He then ordained Moses Thatcher an elder when the latter had been a member only three months. The following month, President Cannon called Thatcher, who was “fifteen years of age—a beardless boy,” to serve as a missionary and to be Elder Boyle’s companion. With a look of dismay, Thatcher “plead with Elder Boyle not to call him to preach or pray in public, saying that if he could be excused from that, he would be Brother Boyle’s obedient and willing servant, blacking his boots, waiting on him, caring for his horse and in every possible manner rendering himself useful to his friend.” A few weeks later the young missionary attended a meeting at which the speakers ridiculed the Saints. On that occasion Thatcher overcame his timidity and spoke in defense of his faith. The boyhood courage that Elder Thatcher displayed in California not only ingratiated him to Elder Boyle but was the beginning of a life full of service to the Church. Over twenty years later he was called to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. [49]

The energetic young mission president, George Q. Cannon, also turned his attention to the counties south of San Francisco. In the October 1856 conference he called Charles W. Wandell to “labor in the Counties of San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, and Monterey.” At the mission conference held six months later, Elder Wandell reported that there were no organized branches in his district, but that there were thirty members: four at Santa Cruz, nine at Pajaro, four at San Juan, two at San Jose, one at Santa Clara, two at Mountain View, and eight at West Union. [50]

However, two weeks later the Saints met at Pajaro under Elder Wandell’s supervision and organized the Salinas Branch on 20 April 1857. Of the twenty-one original members, twelve had been baptized or rebaptized during the previous two weeks. Harvey Whitlock was chosen to be president of the new branch. [51]

The following month, President Cannon noted on a visit to Pajaro that the public there manifested a different attitude toward the Church than found elsewhere; even though many of them were prejudiced against the Saints, they were willing to investigate. [52]

Difficult Times

After the gold rush, there were numerous economic swings, panics, and bank runs. San Francisco banker and future Civil War general, William Tecumseh Sherman, wrote: “California is a perfect paradox, a mystery. The various ups and downs are enough to frighten any prudent person.” [53] Letters to Church leaders from the California missionaries inevitably reflected these ups and downs. As an example, mission president Parley P. Pratt, who in 1.852 lamented the fact that with all his effort he could convince only three persons to accompany him to the Salt Lake Valley, wrote to Brigham Young just two years later that “the Spirit for Salt Lake is so prevalent here that we must be indulged in the privilege of emigrating there.” About four weeks later, he noted that members were selling out and preparing to go to Utah or San Bernardino: “There is no opening as yet for a Stake of Zion here, and with the spirit that now prevails, one can hardly keep them here anyhow.” [54]

Despite the ups and downs, however, many Bay Area Saints chose to remain there. One of these was John M. Horner. During the early 1850s he had prospered to the extent that he was able to bring twenty-two family members from New Jersey to join him in farming near Mission San Jose. Missionaries on their way to or from the South Seas typically stopped at the Horner home, where they received welcome hospitality. In one season, for example, some forty missionaries needed to raise $6,250 for transportation to their fields of labor in such places as China, Siam, and Hindustan. When they, through their combined labor and efforts, were only able to raise $750, Horner generously provided the remaining $5,500. [55]

However, droughts and economic difficulties, climaxing in the nationwide depression of 1857, ended Horner’s prosperity. Furthermore, “hoping to do good,” he had unwisely endorsed notes and loaned money to many acquaintances. As times became more difficult and money became tighter, those notes were all called due; Horner lost everything, including his home. He had to sell his property for one-sixth its former value. Like Job, Horner recalled his inextricable predicament:

As afflictions seldom come singly, so it was in my case. . . . My only daughter sickened and died, while my property was being confiscated. I was also personally afflicted. Lock-jaw came upon me with a heavy fever, which lasted a long time. My life was despaired of by my physicians, relatives, and friends. . . . My recovery was slow, and my sickness left me with but little use of my legs; for weeks I used a crutch when moving around. [56]

As Horner’s health improved, his ambition returned. “The loss of my property and business placed me financially where I had commenced, eight years before, as nothing much of value was saved from the wreck, except my experience.” [57] He started over, renting his former home, and once again successfully growing and selling produce and investing in San Francisco real estate.

Despite the ups and downs, however, the Church generally prospered until about 1854, when polygamy became a source of strife not only in San Bernardino but throughout the state, prompting the general desire among the Saints to flee again. Another crisis, in the summer and fall of 1857, compounded these feelings and would lead to the closing of the mission headquartered in Northern California as well as the abandonment of San Bernardino.


[1] Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1938), 371.

[2] Journal History, 23 February, 1851; LDS Church Archives.

[3] “A Mormon Mission to California in 1851 from the Diary of Parley Parker Pratt,” ed. Reva Holdaway Stanley and Charles L. Camp, California Historical Society Quarterly 14, no. 1 (March 1935): 72.

[4] Ibid., 72–73.

[5] Ibid., 73.

[6] Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, 386.

[7] Augusta Joyce Crocheron, Representative Women of Deseret: A Book of Biographical Sketches to Accompany the Picture Bearing the Same Title (Salt Lake City: J. C. Graham, 1884), 106.

[8] Bernard McGloin, San Francisco: The Story of a City (San Rafael, Calif.: Presidio Press, 1978), 71.

[9] Hubert H. Bancroft, History of California (San Francisco: The History Co., 1884), 6:742; see also Frank Soule, John H. Gihon, and James Nisbet, The Annals of San-Francisco (New York: D. Appleton, 1855), 752.

[10] Robert M. Senkewicz, Vigilantes in Gold Rush San Francisco (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1985), 4–5.

[11] Ibid., 203–31.

[12] “A Mormon Mission to California in 1851,” 176.

[13] Autobiography of Parky P. Pratt, 338; see also chapter 2 herein.

[14] “A Mormon Mission to California in 1851,” 178.

[15] Ibid.

[16] The Journals of Addison Pratt, ed. S. George Ellsworth (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1990), 502–4.

[17] Andrew Jenson, comp., “The California Mission,” 10 April 1853, 23 April 1854 (hereafter CM); LDS Church Archives.

[18] Life of Joseph F. Smith, comp. Joseph Fielding Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1969), 166–67; Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, 409.

[19] Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, 411–12.

[20] Ibid., 422.

[21] CM, 18 December 1854.

[22] Millennial Star, 17 (31 March 1855): 198.

[23] CM, 25 October 1854.

[24] Ibid., 23 November 1854.

[25] Ibid., 18 December 1854.

[26] Ibid., 31 December 1854.

[27] Steven Pratt, “Eleanor McLean and the Murder of Parley P Pratt/’ BYU Studies 15, no. 2 (winter 1975): 225–56.

[28] George Q. Cannon, Writings from the WESTERN STANDARD, Published in San Francisco, California (Liverpool: George Q. Cannon, 1864), vii.

[29] CM, 16 and 20 June 1855.

[30] Cannon, v-vi.

[31] Ibid., vii.

[32] Western Standard, 1 March 1856.

[33] Cannon, 114.

[34] CM, 10 January 1857.

[35] Ibid., 29 February 1856.

[36] Ibid., 29 February, 1 May, and 23 June 1856.

[37] Ibid., 12 May 1856.

[38] Ibid., 29 February 1856; quoted in Cannon, 115.

[39] CM, 1 May 1856.

[40] Ibid., 6 October 1856 and 6 April 1857.

[41] Ibid., 29 February 1856.

[42] Ibid.

[43] Henry G. Boyle Diary, 26 June 1855; typescript, Brigham Young University Archives.

[44] Ibid., 22 April 1856.

[45] CM, 3 August 1856.

[46] Ibid., 1 January 1857.

[47] Andrew Jenson, The Historical Record (Salt Lake City: A. Jenson, 1882–1890), 6:245.

[48] CM, 31 December 1856, 8 March and 1 May 1857.

[49] Jenson, 6:244–48.

[50] CM, 23 April and 31 December 1854, 6 October 1856, 6 April 1857.

[51] Ibid., 20 April 1857.

[52] Cannon, 427–29.

[53] T. H. Watkins, California: An Illustrated History (Palo Alto, Calif.: American West, 1973), 110–11.

[54] CM, 23 November and 18 December 1854.

[55] John M. Horner, “Adventures of a Pioneer,” Improvement Era 7, no. 7 (May 1904): 511.

[56] Ibid., no. 11 (September 1904): 849.

[57] Ibid., no. 10 (August 1904): 771.