Sunday, January 17, 2016

Bundys Know the Way to Deseret

By Bob Ferris

It is difficult to sort out the Malheur situation, because of the different actors and their various sideshows, but at its core it is a Bundy show regardless of how loud and obnoxious Pete Santilli gets.

The Bundy situation in Oregon has forced me to re-read some American history as well as delve into the always interesting story of the Mormons.  This latter exercise was necessitated as we have heard reports that “guards” at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge identified themselves as Captain Moroni and there was mention that landing in Burns made sense because this was once part of Mormon Territory.

In looking at this complicated narrative and set of issues something becomes clear: the Mormons have been most successful in the US when they have downplayed the idea of a theocracy, muted their differences with other Christian sects, and been more reasonable in their ambitions.  On the other hand, they have had serious conflicts even and including a one-year war with the US when they have tried to establish a Mormon theocracy, been open and notorious about differences especially polygamy, and been too ambitious (some would say greedy) in their territorial aspirations.

Monument to the Mormon handcarts.  
Before I jump into this I will say that there is a lot to admire in the Mormons.  They are supreme recruiters and colonizers.  One cannot help but admire folks who traveled across the plains to Utah carrying their possessions in a human powered cart.  Their policies about food storage, community canning (though I understand there have been some recent cannery issues) and charity work are all estimable.   They also have a history of being reproductively robust which was likely more advantageous during our pioneer days than it is now.
“The Bundys are aware that the land they've seized appears to be part of old Mormon territory.”  in Bundyland: Two devout Mormon brothers have created a fantasy camp for commandos in Eastern Oregon 
Which brings us to Deseret.  The Mormon religion was founded in April of 1830 and life for early Mormons was tough—so tough that persecution had forced them to migrate westward until they made the decision to settle in and around what is now known as Utah which was Mexican Territory at that point.  Their migration coincided with the Mexican War of 1846-1848 in which they participated by sending 500 Mormon soldiers for one year in the only religious battalion ever established in the history of the US Army.

This battalion had some amazing and noteworthy exploits but this was a two-year war that cost the US $100 million and involved some 26,000 regular army and 76,000 volunteers who suffered 13,000 casualties.  I add this comment about term and numbers not to belittle the Mormon role in this effort but rather to put it in perspective relative to the contributions of others mainly from east of the Mississippi.  My sense is that this level of invested blood and money by these eastern states should bear materially on who owns the West and why rather than where you live.


While this war was being fought the Mormons were migrating into Utah and in some instances beyond (see above map).  In this period the Mormons, under Brigham Young, designated the State of Deseret (pictured below).  Young and his Mormons drew lines around an area nearly twice the size of Texas and conceptualized it as a Mormon theocracy.  The Mormons operated this provisional state for roughly two years while they applied to the US government for approval of their plan as a territory with the ultimate goal of statehood status for Deseret.  The proposal was rejected propbably because of the theocracy structure, the issue of polygamy, and likely also because of the size of the concept.

The boundaries of Deseret.
The territory struggle continued with the map being revised, the name of the territory changed to Utah and it not being a theocracy. Brigham Young became the first territorial governor and the State of Deseret was dissolved during this time too.  There is a real chicken and egg dynamic involving Deseret as it was established by an entity that held absolutely no legal and scant moral authority to do so.  The Mormons did not own this land and some of the lands they claimed such as the area in Oregon in question they had not even taken steps to occupy as the first Mormon missionaries did not arrive in Oregon until 1851.  Moreover, the process through which the US acquired Oregon started with the joint occupation with Great Britain in 1818 which was a dozen years before the Mormon faith was even founded.
"Second. That the people inhabiting said proposed State do agree and declare that they forever disclaim all right and title to the unappropriated public lands lying within the boundaries thereof; and to all lands lying within said limits owned or held by any Indian or Indian tribes; and that until the title thereto shall have been extinguished by the United States,.."from Utah Statehood legislation.
The statehood battle was a long and bloody one mainly because of the core conflicts discussed above. But it eventually happened in 1896 with a much, much smaller footprint, the name of Utah, and clear language in the admissions act and the state constitution about federal lands within the state remaining in federal ownership as a condition of statehood (see above).

But the idea of Deseret or something similar remains strong with some, particularly in a family like the Bundys whose philosophical DNA has been so seriously and systematical infected by the likes of John Birch Society favorite and uber-conservative Mormon W. Cleon Skousen among other old-school Saints.  The idea of Deseret remains strong also because if one can nullify this idea of federal land ownership in the West, then the kingdom-like concept of Deseret returns and certain Westerners can take assets legally owned by all Americans.


If I were running a campaign to recapture the Deseret dream I would take several actions.  The first action I would take would be to create the impression that nothing was gained by having a strong central government with the powers that are clearly granted it by the US Constitution (click on above video or here to see wider version).  I would do this in part by creating the myth that everything was hunky-dory during the time between when the Declaration of Independence was signed and when the mean men made everything worse by signing that draconian US Constitution that has allowed for government over-reaching.

In this I would fail to mention the devastating failure of the Articles of Confederation (1,2,3) that set up a weak central government from 1777-1787 that led to a disastrously poor economy, squabbling between the states, wide-spread public unrest demonstrated by Shay’s Rebellion among other acts, and the fact that the ban on states undertaking diplomacy independently was absolutely unenforceable and causing troubles.  I would also ignore the Federalist Papers which argued for a strong central government prior to the adoption of the US Constitution because this only acts to weaken my argument.  I would even belittle the US Constitution by saying it was just a single page document—obvious not of a size to grant much in the way of powers in spite of the “page” containing more than 4,000 words and being 28 3/4 inches by 23 5/8 inches.  And that is exactly the tact that Ammon Bundy in the above video is doing while reading slowly and ponderously from his cue cards.

Here is a tweet by refuge terrorist who has modified the words of the iconic Marbury versus Madison ruling.  This was the gentleman who was recently arrested for driving a refuge vehicle to pick up groceries.
Then I would fight the considerable case law and Supreme Court rulings that argued against my point of view.  One of my particular targets would be one of the rulings that is literally carved in stone on the US Supreme Court building in Washington, DC which reads Judicial Department not “We the People” as suggested above.  Remove the power of the Courts and those pesky rulings in Nevada and Utah over the constitutionality of legislation transferring federal lands to state or local ownership are weaken.


And I would do all this not because I was a "patriot" trying to make a better America, but because I wanted to take what was rightfully earned and held by others as my own.  We on the other hand should recognize this dog-and-pony show at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Oregon and the associated theatrics for what they are: Sedition for what they are trying to do to our Country and theft for what they are attempting with our public lands.

1 comment:

  1. Well done, concise history lesson. I'm a long time resident of SE Idaho, so I'm quite familiar with the cult of More-man. I knew the general story of Deseret, but had never seen a map before-"ambitious"indeed. I've been following the Bundy Boyz saga quite closely as this is right in my neighborhood. Your posts have been very interesting and helpful.

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