Camp Floyd and the Mormons

Driven from state to state, early coverts of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints faced constant persecution for their religious beliefs in antebellum America. Eventually, they fled west to the Rocky Mountains. Within ten years, however, the federal government sent troops after them, fearing that Brigham Young, the Mormon prophet, was becoming too autonomous and powerful in the Utah Territory. General Albert Johnston’s presence in the Utah Territory caused a great war of ideas—and sometimes arms—between the determined Saints and unsympathetic soldiers. The establishment of Camp Floyd increased interactions between soldiers and Mormons and church leaders cautioned against the potential negative effects to the moral, social, and economic conditions on the Mormon Zion.

For nearly a decade prior to the army’s arrival in 1857, the Mormons had lived relatively isolated and undisturbed by outside influences. Of early concern to church leaders, Fairfield, a satellite town of Camp Floyd, was viewed as bringing moral decay to some Mormons. Termed “Frogtown” by the Saints and army, it became a den of gambling houses, dance halls, brothels, and saloons frequented by soldiers, teamsters, emigrants, and even some settlers. Theft, prostitution, and murder frequently filled the streets and back halls. Church leaders mourned the spread of moral and social deterioration throughout the valley. One member said, “Camp Floyd Fairfield was full of rotteness and evil of every description and I'm sorry to say our people of both sexes mixed up with them largely and of how bad it did look to see young ladies whose parents were faithful.”

Despite the fear of moral and social turmoil that the army brought to Mormon communities, the Saints benefited economically from the army's occupation in the territory. The soldiers began building the immense fort at Camp Floyd as soon as they arrived. The fort consisted of buildings for headquarters, infantry and artillery units, storehouses, stables, corrals, workshops, powder magazines, a theatre, aqueduct, and so on.

At its height, Camp Floyd was perhaps the largest military installation in the United States prior to the Civil War. The Saints helped build the fort, laboring as artisans, carpenters, and mechanics, which allowed them to profit from trade with the army as Camp Floyd provided business opportunities for enterprising Saints. John Carson, for example, built the Stagecoach Inn, offering a simple yet comfortable environment for higher class visitors and military personnel alike. The inn later became an Overland Stage and Pony Express stop.

The commencement of the Civil War in 1861 struck the death knell for the army's military occupation in Utah Territory, and with it went a major source of conflict for the territory’s inhabitants. Johnston's army had opened the floodgates for travelers to pour into the territory, effectively ending the Mormons' isolation. Moral decay and social tension spread at an alarming rate from the camp to the Saints. Amidst all the social discord, however, the military presence had a positive impact on the territory's economy without which the Mormons would have struggled to keep their agricultural market afloat. Conversely, the success of the fort depended upon Mormon laborers and consumers. In the end, the Saints and Gentiles needed each other for Utah to grow and develop into a thriving territory.

Images

Map

40.252804, -112.099095