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Vermont's visionary Joseph Smith and his revelation of two divine golden books, Urim and Thummim, spawned the migrant mission of the millenium. The saga of the sagebrush saints and their prophet-patriarch is resurrected through the letters and newspaper reports of contemporaries. The sect strengthened, Smith was shot, schism begot the Latter-Day Saints and Mormon bastions flourished at Nauvoo the Beautiful and at Deseret (Salt Lake City). Champions and critics parried as polygamy became a political issue. Brigham Young made the desert bloom -- 93 bushels of wheat to an acre -- and the sect brought followers from Europe, pushing handcarts to Zion. The observations of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Sir Richard Burton, Charles Dickens, Horace Greeley and Vachel Lindsay are recorded here. Detractor Mark Twain said of Mormon women. . . ""these poor, ungainly and pathetically 'homely' creatures -- the man that marries one of them has done an act of Christian charity which entitles him to the kindly applause of mankind, not their harsh censure, and the man that marries sixty of them has done a deed of open-handed generosity so sublime that the nations should stand uncovered in his presence and worship in silence."" But Jedediah Grant, Salt Lake City's first mayor retaliated: ""We have among us women who play on the piano and mix French with their talk and men who would ask nothing better than to be fed by other people for squaring circles and writing dead languages all their lives --albeit we would not give one good gunsmith's apprentice for the whole of them."" A pungent pastiche for an Americana audience, handled with sympathetic and informed understanding.

Pub Date: March 17th, 1958
Publisher: Knopf