Academic journal article Alberta History

The Mormons and the Mounties: Contact and Assimilation in the Late Nineteenth Century

Academic journal article Alberta History

The Mormons and the Mounties: Contact and Assimilation in the Late Nineteenth Century

Article excerpt

Mormons practising plural marriage were heavily persecuted and prosecuted by the United States government starting in the late nineteenth century, causing hundreds of Mormons to flee their Utah homes and migrate either southward to Mexico or northward to Canada. One who barely escaped incarceration was Charles Ora Card, president of the Cache Valley Utah Stake, who presided over a region that included southern Idaho and northern Utah. When Mormon persecutions were at a peak in the late summer of 1886, LDS Church president John Taylor encouraged Card to travel northwest across the United States border to find a gathering place for Mormon families to settle in the southern portion of Alberta. Taylor, who had English roots and had lived for several years in Toronto, told Card, "I have always found justice under the British flag." (1) Author Brigham Y. Card, a descendant of Charles Ora Card, wrote, "Word had reached Cache Valley of the passage of the Edmunds-Tucker Act on 19 February 1887, which to Card 'meant plunder and persecution of the whole church.'" This Act stiffened the penalties, causing both the Church and the Perpetual Emigrating Fund to be disfranchised. (2) Federal officers intensified efforts to capture polygamists. Barely escaping incarceration following arrests, Card left Logan in disguise." (3)

In September of 1886, Card, accompanied by three others, explored the Alberta region from south of Calgary to the northern border of the United States and later reported to President Taylor that they had found what looked to be a suitable area for settlement. Card was then instructed by Taylor to return to the region with forty families. Under Card's leadership, a vanguard of a dozen Cache Valley pioneer families left Logan in March of 1887. After making further explorations they eventually selected a place for permanent settlement, which was later named Cardston, after Card. (4)

The first mention of contact between the Mormons and the North-West Mounted Police (NWMP) was apparently a pleasant one which took place on Card's first exploratory trip, as noted in his diary of October 25, 1886: "This morning we drove up st. Mary R[iver] 7 miles to the Police station who were kind enough to let us have hay enough for night." (5) The next entry occurred nearly six months later on April 16, 1887, when Card mentions being near St. Mary's River and writes, "I went to the Post of Mounted police and reported entrance and arranged for a pass the next morning to Ft. Macleod." (6) Just ten days afterwards, Card recorded that his group of Mormon pioneers "broke camp and drove about 3 miles about the Mounted Police station and camped for dinner." Further, "This evening we voted unanimously that Lees Creek was the best location at present to plant our colony thereon." (7)

Thus a permanent place to settle was selected just a few miles from the police station which suggests that the Mormons were not trying to avoid the Mounties. On June 1, 1887, Card wrote, "We gave three cheers for our liberty as exiles for our religion." (8) Just one month later, on Dominion Day, Card provided further evidence that he readily embraced his new homeland: "The first day of the month is set apart as a national holiday in Canada in commemoration of the union of provinces of the great land of Brittish [sic] America." (9) On that occasion, Card wrote, (10) "We put up a bowry and invited our neighboring ranchers and the police in and held a little picknick [sic] under our hastily arranged bowry." (11)

Seven months later, another festive event occurred--the Mormon schoolhouse was dedicated. Card recorded, "We held a dance on the eve of the day we dedicated our house Where both old and young of our colony participated. Two of the Mounted police and a few of our gentile neighbors joined us by invitation.... We all pronounced it an enjoyable time." (12)

On the surface it appears that the visiting neighbours and the Mounted Police enjoyed themselves at these celebrations, seemingly oblivious to any potential problems the newly arrived Mormons might bring. …

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