Old Mormon Trail, Colorado
Mormons are a religious and cultural group related to Mormonism, the principal branch of the Latter Day Saint movement of Restorationist Christianity, which began with Joseph Smith in upstate New York during the 1820s. After Smith's death in 1844, the Mormons followed Brigham Young to what would become the Utah Territory. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints originated in Upstate New York, where Joseph Smith, founder of the Latter Day Saint movement, was raised. Joseph Smith gained the first following in the late 1820s as he was dictating the Book of Mormon, which he said was a translation of words found on a set of "golden plates" that had been buried near his home by an indigenous American prophet. The church rapidly gained a following, who viewed Smith as their prophet. As church leader, Smith instituted the then-secret practice of plural marriage and taught a form of Millennialism which he called "theodemocracy", to be led by a Council of Fifty which, allegedly, had secretly and symbolically anointed him as king of this Millennial theodemocracy. In late 1830, Smith envisioned a "city of Zion", a Utopian city in Native American lands near Independence, Missouri. After Smith and other Mormons emigrated to Missouri in 1838, hostilities escalated into the 1838 Mormon War, culminating in adherents being expelled from the state under an Extermination Order signed by the governor of Missouri. After Missouri, Smith built the city of Nauvoo, Illinois. Soon, The Nauvoo Expositor, a newspaper edited by dissident Mormon William Law, issued a scathing criticism of polygamy and Nauvoo theocratic government. Smith and the Nauvoo city council voted to shut down the paper as a public nuisance. Relations between Mormons and residents of surrounding communities had been strained, and some of them instituted criminal charges against Smith for treason. Smith surrendered to police in the nearby Carthage, Illinois, and while in state custody, he and his brother Hyrum Smith were killed by an angry mob attacking the jail on June 27, 1844. After his death, the majority of church members voted to accept the Quorum of the Twelve, led by Brigham Young, as the church's leading body. Under the leadership of Brigham Young, Church leaders planned to leave Nauvoo, Illinois in April 1846, but amid threats from the state militia, they were forced to cross the Mississippi River in the cold of February and forged a path to Salt Lake City known as the Mormon Trail. One of the reasons the Saints had chosen the Great Basin as a settling place was that the area was at the time outside the territorial borders of the United States, which Young had blamed for failing to protect Mormons from political opposition from the states of Missouri and Illinois. They left the boundaries of the United States to what is now Utah where they founded Salt Lake City. The groups that left Illinois for Utah became known as the Mormon pioneers. The arrival of the original Mormon Pioneers in the Salt Lake Valley on July 24, 1847 is commemorated by the Utah State holiday Pioneer Day. In the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, Mexico ceded the Utah area to the United States. As a result, Brigham Young sent emissaries to Washington, D.C. with a proposal to create a vast State of Deseret, of which Young would naturally be the first governor. Instead, Congress created the much smaller Utah Territory in 1850, and Young was appointed a governor in 1851. By 1857, tensions had again escalated between Mormons and other Americans, largely as a result of church teachings on polygamy and theocracy. In 1857-1858, the church was involved in an armed conflict with the U.S. government, entitled the Utah War. The war resulted in the relatively peaceful invasion of Utah by the United States Army, after which Young agreed to step down from power and be replaced by a non-Mormon territorial governor. Nevertheless, the church still wielded significant political power in the Utah Territory. Mormons continued the practice of polygamy despite opposition by the United States Congress. In 1862, 1874 and 1887 the U.S. Congress enacted acts which made bigamy a felony in the U.S. territories. By 1890, many church leaders had gone into hiding to avoid prosecution, and half the Utah prison population was composed of polygamists. Church leadership officially ended the practice in 1890 and stopped performing polygamous marriages in 1904. During the 20th century, the church became an international organization and strong public champion of monogamy and family values.