notes on A. Conan Doyle's A Study in Scarlet (1887)
by John McDonnell
"The New York Sun, in its own editorial article runs as follows: THE MORMONS.
William Smith, brother of Joe Smith, the Mormon prophet, states that it is their
design to set up an independent government somewhere in the neighborhood of the
Rocky mountains, or near California. That the plan has been maturing for a long
time, and that, in fact, with hate in their hearts, skillfully kept up by the Mormon
leaders, whose pockets are to be enriched by their toil, the mass of the Mormons
will be alike purged of American feeling, and shut out by a barrier of mountains
and church restrictions from any other than Mormon freedom. That the design of
Brigham Young and the twelve is to build up a sacerdotal tyranny, the spirit of
which will be more repugnant to the spread of republican principles than could
possibly be the rule of Europe. These are William Smith's views. He is opposed to
the plan of organization and its leaders" (Times and Seasons Nauvoo Illinois 1845
When A Study in Scarlet appeared in 1887, polygamy was still an official practice
of the Mormon church in Utah. The church's 1890 decision to abandon it was
necessary before Utah could become a State (1896). A recorded 1857 sermon by
Brigham Young indicates that "blood atonement" (murdering apostates) was once
an accepted practice in Utah: "Will you love your brothers or sisters likewise,
when they have committed a sin that cannot be atoned for without the shedding
of their blood? Will you love that man or woman well enough to shed their blood?"
(Journal of Discourses 4:219; Deseret News 6:397).
One of the more interesting accounts of fleeing the wickedness in Utah is in a
biographical sketch of Mark H. Forscutt by Roy A. Cheville published in Saints'
Harmony, Herald House, Independence Missouri, 1974:
"Mark Hill Forscutt was born June 19, 1834, at Bath, England. He was one of
those persons who have been considered 'naturally religious.' When a young man,
he went with some friends to hear a strange preacher with a strange message - a
Latter Day Saint. It was one of those cases where 'those who came to scoff
remained to pray.' ... At the age of nineteen, he was baptized in spite of the
opposition of his family who immediately disowned him. He went daringly ahead
in the life of the Latter Day Saints in the ministry to which he was soon called.
On March 25, 1860, he was married to Elizabeth Unsworth. On their wedding
day they left England for America. They were 'gathering' to the 'city of the
Saints' in Utah. They made their way to Omaha, Nebraska, where they joined a
caravan and traveled on foot to Salt Lake City. On arrival, Mark Forscutt
became private secretary to Brigham Young, a position he held for four years.
He saw the inner workings of the Utah church. He became heartsick and
disillusioned and angry.... For safety and livelihood he joined the Fifth
California Cavalry of the United States Army. Mrs. Forscutt and two small
children went along on excursions into Nevada.... Mark Forscutt left the Salt
Lake City region as a matter of safety. In those days there was an extremely
hostile attitude toward those who left the church as 'apostates.' By exchanging
a stagecoach ticket with a soldier he came out safely without identification.
Sometime later Mrs. Forscutt came east with her two small daughters on the
first Union Pacific train out of Ogden for Omaha...." The sketch goes on to
tell of Forscutt joining the Reorganized church in 1865, returning to Utah for
a while as a missionary for the Reorganized church, becoming a close friend
of Joseph Smith III (a son of the church founder and the leader of the
Reorganized church), becoming a church music leader, in 1879 preaching the
funeral sermon of Mrs. Emma Smith Bidamon (who had been church founder
Joseph Smith Jr.'s one and only wife), and producing the Reorganization's first
hymnbook in 1889 (the earliest Latter Day Saint hymnbook had been produced
by Emma Smith in 1835)."
In his published memoirs, Joseph Smith III stated: "... after the death of
Brigham Young  - and possibly as a partial result of the bloody Mountain
Meadow massacre  and its publicity [in 1877 John Doyle Lee was executed
for the murders] - there ensued a change in the administrative policies of the
Mormon Church, and the Danite band was put out of existence.... Mr. Fennimore
was the photographer who took the pictures that appeared in some articles about
the trial and execution of John D. Lee. These pictures included the scene at
Mountain Meadows where the massacre of 1857 occurred when a large party of
immigrants was killed and their stock stolen - ostensibly by Indians. Inquiry
under the auspices of the United States Government traced the crime to white
men belonging to the Mormon Church, of whom John D. Lee was but one,
though evidently made the scapegoat in crime for the whole party."
In A Study in Scarlet, its 1860 date for the murder of John Ferrier by the Danite
Band fits the conditions of the time. In my opinion, A Study in Scarlet would
make a great movie, if the exact details of the story were portrayed. Contrasts
between settled London and the Wild West, if skillfully shown, could be
"Elder M. H. Forscutt wrote from Salt Lake City, Utah, September 21, 1866, giving
an account of a very disreputable and condemnable effort to destroy him and others.
He wrote as follows: 'During the stay of the brethren at my house, I found the
following paper inserted under my window sill: "Aug. 31, 1866. If not out of this
Territory in one week, you will die the death of a miserable apostate dog.
(Addressed) MR. FORSCUTT." The following Sabbath several of the saints, Bros.
Gillen, Anderson, and my own family took supper at my house, and all excepting
the two brethren and myself, and my eldest daughter, (five years old,) were
immediately taken sick. They vomited most fearfully, and experienced a very
peculiar sensation, accompanied by spasms in the stomach, and numbness of the
hands and feet. One of the sisters, Jane Maloney, wife of Bro. Maloney, (on whose
life an attempt was made nearly a year and a half since, as reported in Herald,)
resides at camp. She and her son were very sick, and in conversation with the
army surgeon, her husband was informed there was every indication of strychnine.
My wife cooked down in the cellar, to which there is a separate entrance, and a
neighbor's boy, on hearing of the circumstance, the day following, said he saw two
men, whom he described, standing near the stove on the day in question, during
the temporary absence of Sister Forscutt with her company. They doubtless did
the execrable work, but thanks be to God, who gave us the victory, they were
foiled considerably in their nefarious design. All are again restored whom the
murderous preparation affected, excepting Sister Maloney, and she experiences
a deadening sensation in her toes only. Those whom they most designed to
destroy were totally unharmed'" (The Saints' Herald 10:142-143).
"November 6, Elder Forscutt wrote from Columbus, Nebraska, of Utah affairs as
follows: 'I wrote you on leaving Great Salt Lake City, and merely drop you a
line to state that I spent Sabbath here, and had a truly soul-refreshing time. I
leave here tonight for Omaha, and will be in Plano as soon as I can manage my
affairs enroute. Times are lively in Utah. Dr. Robinson, next door but one
neighbor to me, and a personal friend, was murdered two days after I left. I
also learned from a gentleman who left there the day after the doctor's murder,
that General Connor and eight others were under orders from the Danite
fraternity to leave or die'" (The Saints' Herald 10:175).
The Book of Mormon, first published in 1830, may contain the strongest denunciation
of polygamy in all of religious literature. In its Book of Jacob there is lengthy
condemnation of polygamy, from which I extract the following:
"... the people of Nephi under the reign of the second king began to grow hard in their
hearts, and indulge themselves somewhat in wicked practices, such as like unto David
of old, desiring many wives and concubines, and also Solomon his son ..."
"... thus saith the Lord: 'This people beginneth to wax in iniquity; they understand not
the scriptures, for they seek to excuse themselves in committing whoredoms because
of the things which were written concerning David and Solomon his son. Behold, David
and Solomon truly had many wives and concubines, which thing was abominable before
Me!' saith the Lord; wherefore, thus saith the Lord: 'I have led this people forth out
of the Land of Jerusalem by the power of Mine arm, that I might raise up unto Me a
righteous branch from the fruit of the loins of Joseph; wherefore, I, the Lord God, will
not suffer that this people shall do like unto them of old.' Wherefore my brethren,
hear me and hearken to the word of the Lord: 'For there shall not any man among you
have save it be one wife, and concubines he shall have none; for I, the Lord God,
delighteth in the chastity of women, and whoredoms are abominations before Me!'"
How the church that Joseph Smith Jr. founded moved from such plain statements to
the sort of polygamy practiced by Mormons in Utah is strange. Due to false
accusations by enemies of the church, the 1835 book Doctrine and Covenants, with
the endorsement of Joseph Smith Jr. and other leaders, had included an official
church statement on marriage. One sentence read: "Inasmuch as this church of Christ
has been reproached with the crime of fornication, and polygamy: we declare that we
believe, that one man should have one wife; and one woman, but one husband, except
in case of death, when either is at liberty to marry again."
Yet, Mormon harems in Utah became a reality. In the memoirs of Joseph Smith III
(1832-1914), w beginning in 1860, served as president of the Reorganized church,
are poignant accounts of his encountering plural wives during his missionary trips
through Utah. "I was once invited to [cousin] Joseph F.'s. He received me kindly as
I arrived, and we chatted for a little while before supper was announced.... To me
the situation in which I found myself seemed very strange. For the first time in my
life I was permitted to see thus at close range the domestic relations of a polygamous
family and the actual operation of a doctrine which had long been unspeakably
repulsive to me. The very fibers of my being seemed to cry out in protest, and so
strong was my prejudice and antipathy that I seemed to feel almost physically ill as
I contemplated the scene. There, at one board sat a complacent man, surrounded by
three wives and a large number of children... The women did not take much part in
our conversation. I thought I detected upon the countenances of two of them,
evidence of some distress of mind, and possibly, regret, as if they were conscious
that the opinions I would form of their family relations were not likely to be very
complimentary to them."
based on "A Study in Scarlet" (1887)
The Flower of Utah
Before the state of Utah chose
The sego lily for its flower,
'Twas told the flower of Utah was
A fairer girl than Mormon power
Had seen on all the Pacific slope.
But she loved a Gentile man named Hope.
In vales beyond a nation's laws
A sacerdotal rule enthralls.
The priestcraft reach with grasping paws
Confined the girl in harem walls
Until she pined away and died.
Revenge replaced the tears Hope cried:
"Let's see if justice dwells on earth
"Or if we all are ruled by chance."
Death comes to all of human birth.
Beside the salt lake satyrs dance
In darkness, while in the light of day
The sego lilies gently sway.
Now that Mormons have some reputation for happy monogamous marriages,
one might see in that a fulfillment of Isaiah 1:18: "Come now, and let us
reason together, saith the Lord; though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be
white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool."