Thomas Leiper Kane & the Utah-Mormon War of 1857-58

Home Blogs Hidden Histories Thomas Leiper Kane & the Utah-Mormon War of 1857-58

Thomas Leiper Kane & the Utah-Mormon War of 1857-58

2008-07-30 09:51

On July 24th, 1847, a number of wagons, filled with beleagured, worn & weary 'Mormon' pioneers, entered what is now, the Salt Lake Valley, which would later become Utah Territory, under the leadership of an American religious leader & colonizer, Brigham Young.
Image from the Society Portrait Collection at HSP

Some nine years previously in October of 1838, during the so-called, 'Trail of Tears,' some 11, 500 Cherokee Indians had been forced from their ancestral lands in the Southeast, only to be resettled in what is now Oklahoma. The famous late historian, Dr. Thomas D. Clark in his seminal volume, Frontier America (1959), would state: "No more pathetic mass movement of people had occurred on this continent."

In actuality, some 15,000 members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, or the 'Mormons,' had also been forced at gunpoint, to leave the State of Missouri, as a result of the 'Extermination Order,' issued by Governor Lillburn Boggs, on October 30, 1838. However, this would not occur until 200 armed men attacked the small 'Mormon' settlement of Haun's Mill, where they killed & massacred 18 persons, one being a nine-year old boy.

Then again, beginning in 1846, approximately 20,000 'Mormons,' were driven from their burning homes at Nauvoo, Illinois (a city rivaling Chicago in population) & the surrounding area, the start of what would become in reality, the largest forced migration in American history.

Philadelphia born resident, Thomas Leiper Kane, son of U.S. District Judge John K. Kane and brother to famed Arctic explorer (Elisha Kent Kane, see previous blog for details), would play a major role in 'Mormon' & Federal affairs.
'Thomas Leiper Kane' taken from the Gratz Collection, Case 5, Box 5, at HSP

Having attended previously a gathering of 'Mormons' in Philadelphia in May of 1846 {Joseph Smith, the founder and martyr of Mormonism had established a congregation in the city as early as 1839} Kane became a solid advocate for Latter-Day Saint rights and a staunch defender of their faith within governmental circles.

Kane would go on to serve as as an attorney, counselor and clerk for the District Court of the U.S., in Philadelphia in 1857, but not until he had first given a sympathetic account in behalf of the Latter-Day Saints sect, entitled, The Mormons: A Discourse delivered before the Historical Society of Pennsylvania: March 26, 1850,' published in Philadelphia that same year.

In March of 1850, there was a heated dialogue occuring within the 'halls of Congress' and elsewhere in the country, over the establishment of Utah Territory. Thomas L. Kane continually defended Brigham Young & the 'Mormon' sect, both in print & as an orator during this time of debate.

During the winter of 1857-58, when much of the American public was convinced the 'Mormons' and Brigham Young were in 'armed rebellion' against Pres. James Buchanan & the government of the United States, Kane traveled some 3,000 miles from the East to Salt Lake City, Utah, in an attempt to halt any actual bloodshed that might possibly occur between the 'Mormons' & Federal forces, which at the time were under the command of Albert Sidney Johnston (from my native Mason County, Kentucky), who would later serve in the Civil War, and die during the Battle of Shiloh in 1862.

Kane would be successful as a mediator during what would later become known as, 'Buchanan's Blunder,' since there were in reality, NO casualties in the so-called, 'Utah-Mormon War,' other than two Kentuckians, who shot & stabbed one another with bowie-knives, in Kentucky, over which individual would lead their county's company of volunteers to 'put down the Mormon rebellion that never was.' (see my article reference below)

Thomas Leiper Kane and his family, though not 'Mormon,' would continue to visit & carry out friendly relations with Brigham Young & the Mormons long after 'Buchanan's Blunder.' Kane County, Utah is named after this Philadelphia native, and the 'Thomas L. Kane Memorial Chapel,' located in the Borough of Kane, McKean County, Pennsylvania, is maintained as a visitor's center, by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints today.

Thomas Leiper Kane after the 'Mormon' conflict, would go on to serve in the American Civil War, as Colonel of the 'Bucktails,' or 42nd Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment, during which he would be wounded, captured, but later rose to the rank of Brigadier-General in the 'Army of the Potomac,' and would also fight at Gettysburg on 'Culp's Hill,' achieving the rank of 'Brevet Major-General.'

Kane was a staunch supporter of Brigham Young and a loyal friend of the Latter-Day Saints until his death in 1883. He is buried at the former Presbyterian chapel in McKean County, Pennsylvania, where the 'Mormon' church erected a statue in his honor, in 1972.

See also, Daniel N. Rolph, "Kentucky Reactions & Casualties in the Utah War of 1857-58," The Journal of Kentucky Studies, Vol.4 (September, 1987): 89-96.

Blog Type


Submitted by Kevin Henson (not verified) on

Kane was instrumental in helping raise the 500-man "Mormon Battalion" approved by President Polk. Though perhaps motivated by a desire for military fame, Kane left historically important letters, journal entries and sketches of the Mormons at the the Missouri River in 1846. His interactions with the "Saints" convinced him they were not the people generally represented in the press.
For an excellent survey, see Chapter 1 in "Army of Israel" by David Bigler and Will Bagley (Arthur Clark, 2000)

Add comment

Current state: Draft

Rich-Text Editor

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.