13 2 Southwestern Historical Quarterly July
The Texas Republic and the Mormon Kzngdom of God. By Michael Scott Van
Wagenen. (College Station, Texas: Texas A&M University Press, 2oo2. Pp.
136. Illustrations, maps, bibliography, appendices, index. ISBN 1-58544-
184-8. $18.95, cloth.
In the 1840s, western North America was the stage upon which a vast geopolit-
ical drama unfolded. One of America's most dynamic groups-the Mormons, or
members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints-played an impor-
tant role. Most students of the West are familiar with the Mormons' migration to
Utah following the brutal murder of their leader Joseph Smith in Carthage,
Illinois, in 1844. Unbeknownst to many historians, however, Smith had pon-
dered several possible western locations for the Saints to thrive. One of them-
Texas--was very seriously considered. In pursuing the possibility of a Mormon
empire in the Southwest, Joseph Smith developed a lively correspondence with
Sam Houston and other officials of the Republic.
For the Mormons in the early 1840s, Texas seemed to offer real possibilities
as their lives deteriorated in the Middlewest. The Mormons' affinity with
Native Americans (whom they considered the lost Tribes of Israel), anti-slav-
ery/pro-African American philosophy (which changed in Utah), and strong
anti-British sentiments made them good candidates to settle the lightly popu-
lated, peripheral portions of Texas-namely the trans-Nueces and/or far west
Texas. For their part, several influential Texans thought that the Mormons,
who had organized strong militias and increasingly talked of defending them-
selves, could act as a buffer state between the Republic of Texas and Mexico.
As revealed in this intriguing book, the Mormons began serious, but largely
secret, negotiations during the early 1840s until their leader's life was cut
short by mob violence. Following Smith's death, Brigham Young evidently
found Texas less attractive than the Intermountain West. Although the
Mormons' Texas dream waned, the efforts of Lyman Wight and some Saints to
settle portions of Texas did give the Mormons a Texas presence, albeit a small
one, in the late 184os and early 185os.
Van Wagenen notes that he faced several challenges in writing this book. First,
his background as a Mormon notwithstanding, the LDS documentation is
scarce. The Mormon Church is reportedly refusing to release records about
what transpired in Texas during this period. Second, even documentation in
Texas is sparse because many of the negotiations were kept secret. Despite these
handicaps, however, Van Wagenen has written a fascinating book that sheds con-
siderable light on regional geopolitics and cultural values in the 184os. In addi-
tion to a short (73 pages) text, it contains two valuable appendices, one on
Mormon terminology, the other quoting articles about Texas in Nauvoo newspa-
pers 1843-44. The text and these appendices reveal much about the Mormons
and their interactions with Texans. Van Wagenen nicely balances events that
were transpiring in the Mormon community of Nauvoo, Illinois, with concurrent
developments in Texas. Interestingly, and I believe correctly, he notes that
although "[g]iven the theocratic nature of Nauvoo, one might initially suspect
that [Joseph] Smith may have manipulated the city's newspapers to forward his
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 107, July 2003 - April, 2004. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101224/. Accessed May 23, 2013.