Brigham: Savage Journey (1983)




Director:     Tom McGowan.

Starring:     Maurice Grandmaison (Brigham Young), Paul Warton (First Preacher), John Mason (Heber), Stephen Cracroft (Phineas), Lou Edwards (Brother Becker), Michael Danvers-Walker (Third Preacher), Glade Hill (Farmer), Richard Moll (Joseph Smith), Robin Russell (Mary Ann Angel), Terrence Gehr (Samuel Rudley), Faith Clift (Claire Rudley), Beverly Rowland (Reverend's Wife), Kate Hill (Emma Smith), Rue Dastrup (Preacher), Preston Lloyd (Preacher).

Made for TV.

Brigham Young leads the Mormons (Latter Day Saints) out to today's Salt Lake City, Utah


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie. 

Early 1800s.  Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon faith, is at home with his wife and children.  A mob attacks the house.  They grab Joseph and take him outside.  They put a noose around his neck.  Someone shouts:  "We can't kill him!"  "So tar and feather him!  They bring out a bucket of hot tar and start applying the tar to Smith's body with mops.  Then they throw the rest of the bucket of tar in his face.  That is followed by dumping feathers on him.  Then they leave him.  An old woman cuts his ropes to free him.  He asks her:  "Why help me?"  The woman is the wife of the local reverend.  She says:  "I don't know if you're a prophet of God, but I've seen the devil's work tonight!"

Western New York, 1830.  Brigham Young listens to a lot of different preachers.  He says:  "I want to talk to God."  He asks for help.  He has no money, trade or special skill.  But, he says: "I just got to know You're there."  Some of his associates mention to him the name of Joseph Smith of Kirtland, Ohio. 

1832, Kirtland, Ohio.  Brigham Young walks through the woods and meets Joseph Smith who says to him:  "Welcome, brother."  Smith was the prophet but he needed Brigham Young to help carve out a new nation.  Brigham is a widower.  He meets a young woman named Marianne Angel.  He likes her and asks her to marry him.  He already has built a new house.  But she says she will have to ask God.  They marry. 

Young leaves for Canada in the morning.  He is doing missionary work.  He looks through a window into a cabin.  A man puts and gun to his head and asks him what he is doing.  Young asks if the man can spare a meal.  He tells the fellow, named Samuel, that many in the area have been inhospitable to him.  Some even set their dogs on him.  He then tells Samuel that he brings a message.  He is a missionary.  The man's wife, Claire, tells Young that her husband does not believe in God.  In talking about religion, Young asks:  "Why can't God speak to us today?"  Samuel is not interested, but Claire is and Young baptizes her. 

Young returns to Ohio.  One day Samuel and Claire arrive in Kirtland.  They have purchased a piece of farm land using all their savings:  $100 dollars.  Young has to break the unhappy news to them that the whole church is moving elsewhere: to Missouri.  But Young says Becker, the owner, will give the money back.  Young then goes to see Becker and gets back the money. 

Daviess County, Missouri, 1838.  The locals start getting upset by the new arrivals.  They complain that all the newcomers do is "work and make babies."  They are largely self-sufficient and so don't spend much money in town.  And none of them have slaves.  A boy comes into the town bar to pick up a letter for his father.  When he tells them that his father is Brigham Young, the men try to force him to drink liquor and chew tobacco.  The boy does his best to resist.  One of the men says:  "Tell your old man to get out of Missouri."  "Why don't you tell him yourself?" says Brigham to the man.  He asks for his letter.  A local tough guy starts to challenge Brigham.  He asks to shake hands with Brigham and gets involved in a test of strength.  Brigham wins the contest.

Joseph Smith visits Samuel and Sister Claire.  That evening, night riders show up at the home of Young.  They grab some rocks and throw them through the windows of the house.  Young tells everyone:  "Under the table, quick!"  The night riders leave.  They go to Smith's house and burn down his barn. 

Haun's Mill, October 1838.  The night riders with rifles come to a farm building where a lot of Mormon women and children are gathered.  The men push their rifles through the spaces between the boards of the barn walls and start shooting everyone inside.  They commit a massacre.  Upset by the massacre, the Mormons surround Joseph Smith's place in town.  He tells them to stop all this talk about blood and vengeance.  The crowd disperses. 

Washington, D.C. November 1839.  Joseph Smith and some Mormon representatives talk with President Martin Van Buren.  They complain that the state militia of Missouri is committing crimes against the Mormons.  And, worse, the governor of Missouri sanctions the ugly deeds of the militia.  Van Buren says that he cannot intervene in the internal politics of a state.  Besides, it's an election year and he doesn't want to alienate voters.  He then says he has to leave because he has an appointment with some important men.  Smith tells him that some day he will have to answer to Someone more important than these "important" men. 

The decision has been made.  They are going on to Illinois.  Samuel asks:  "Why will it be any different?"  But, "We can't stay here."  Nevertheless, Samuel says he is staying.   Joseph Smith tells his followers that in Illinois they can drain a swamp and use it for farmland. 

Nauvoo, Illinois 18i39.  Samuel actually comes with the group, despite all his objections.  Young visits him in his new store.  Sam tells Young that "There's trouble coming."  The rumors in town are all about polygamy.  Young doesn't confirm it, but also doesn't deny it.   When Young returns home his wife says:  "It's all over town."  "Who will be your new wife?"  Brigham tells his wife to choose her, but she says she cannot do it.  But after awhile, Marianne introduces Brigham to his new wife, Lucy Dicker.  Her husband died leaving her with three children.

Some salesmen want to sell pistols to Joseph Smith, but he refuses,  Brigham, however, says he will take two pistols.  Two young fellows drop in on Joseph Smith to tell him that they were forced to go to a secret meeting at William Law's place.  The men there asked the boys if it is wrong to kill the devil.  They claim that they will destroy Smith.  Then the men wanted them to swear to kill Smith.  The boys refused, then the men demanded that they say nothing about the meeting. 

The Mormons are upset about William Law's lies printed in his paper the Nauvoo Expositor.  Joseph Smith declares the paper a public nuisance and destroys the printing press at the paper. 

Governor Thomas Ford of Illinois, June 1844.  William Law and others demand that the governor enforce the warrant against Joseph Smith.  They tell the governor to do it or they will do it. 

Carthage, Illinois, June 1844.  Joseph Smith is arrested.  He is harassed by the local troops.  Smith tells them that they thirst for blood and vengeance.  He then predicts that the nation will be split apart by a fight between the south and the north.  Smith is thrown into a temporary jail with three of his followers.  He and the others had turned themselves in.  And yet, they want to know, "Why do they hate us?"  The governor pays a visit to the prisoners.  He tells them:  "I warned you to walk carefully and stay out of politics."  So the men have to stand trail.  Smith asks: "Here, with this lynch mob? "   He then reminds the Governor that he promised to stay in Carthage.  Without him, Smith feels that the mob will kill them. 

The jailors bring in the prisoners' supper.  It is then that they learn that the Governor has gone; he left early in the morning.  And here comes the mob of a hundred or so.  They shout:  "We want Smith!"  With such a large mob the jailors all run for cover.  The mob reaches the locked door and they start shooting through it.  A number of Smith's fellows are killed or badly wounded.  After the bullets blew some holes in the door, it is easy for the mob to break through the door.  Smith falls backwards through the back window.  There he is picked up by the mob.  He is shot by multiple shooters and killed. 

Salem, Massachusetts, 1844.  Brigham learns for the first time that Smith has been murdered. This time Young decides to move beyond the Rockies to a place no one else would want.   Young tells his people:  "Joseph is dead, but the church lives." 

Nauvoo Exodus 1846.  Sam is not going, but his wife and children leave. 

Crossing Iowa, 1846.  Sam comes to the wagon train to see his wife and children.  He tells Brigham:  "She chose the church above me."  But he still decides to go with his family. 

Winter Quarters.  Douglas County, Nebraska, 1846-1847. 

Spring arrives.  The US Cavalry pays a visit to the Mormons.  The United States has declared war on Mexico, so the government wants to enlist 500 of Young's men for one year to serve in California.  Young says he will consult with the Council of Twelve.  Later, he tells the cavalry captain that he will give the men for army duty because of their faith in the nation as a whole. 

Great Westward Trek. Spring 1847.  Brigham gets very sick. 

The Great Salt Lake Basin.  July 24, 1847.  Still on his sick bed, Brigham is told that they have reached their destination.  The settlers start planting crops.  At harvest time, their crop is attacked by a huge plague of locusts.  They try to kill the locusts with shovels and brooms, but only have limited success.  Brigham wonders:  "What went wrong?"  Without the harvest they will not be able to live through another winter. And this is an act of God, who controls all of nature.  The harvest is saved, however, with the arrival of massive numbers of birds who start eating the locusts.

September 1848.  A Congressional Inquiry is taking place dealing with the Mormon church.  The feeling in Washington is that the church cannot be trusted.  Some say the Mormons are guilty of treason.  Brigham is asked a number of questions by a government representative.  One question is about slavery.  Brigham answers that they should free the black man and compensate the owners by the sale of federal land.  And if Utah does become a state, she definitely will not be a slave state.  But the big question is about polygamy.  Brigham says that he himself has fifteen wives, all approved by the first wife.  He says that in their system there are no spinsters or old maids and no orphans.  In summary:  "Polygamy is not mere fornication."

Indian Wars of 1853-1854.  Recent Indian depredations have been the work of Chief Walker who has come up from Texas to easier pickings in the future Utah.  Brigham decides to talk with Chief Walker.  When he does, he asks the Chief:  "Chief, how can we be friends?"  The Chief answers:  "What we want, we take."  The Indians launch a night attack on government surveyors.  Brigham tells the army that the attack was in retaliation for Captain Hildreth killing two Indians.

The army Colonel tells Brigham that the Indians have been isolated on top of one of the mountains.  He adds:  "Chief Walker is a dead man."  But Brigham has his own ideas.  He and a couple of his men climb up the mountain to talk with the Chief.  He tells Chief Walker:  "I want all your guns."  They must come down unarmed to the army.  Brigham sums it up:  "Change or die!"  Chief Walker and his people come down.  The Colonel comments that it would have been better to let the Indians stay on the mountain top and starve.  The army officer then tells his men:  "Chain them up!"  Brigham insists that he has the ultimate authority over the Indians.  After all, he is both the governor and the Indian superintendent.  He says:  "You are dismissed, Colonel."  The Colonel tells him that he will rue this day. 

Sam's wife becomes ill and collapses.  Sam tells Brigham: "Take me into the church."  Brigham responds:  "Welcome, brother Sam."  Later Claire dies.  Brigham then conducts an eternal partner ceremony between Sam and his wife Claire as represented by one of Brigham's wives. 

Scenes of modern day Salt Lake City are shown.  The spirits of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young look at the modern city.  Joseph Smith says:  "You certainly worked miracles with God's help."  Brigham responds:  "You should have seen it when God had it alone."  They leave. 


Pretty good movie.  The viewing quality of the film was not the greatest.  But otherwise the movie was good.  There was no outstanding acting and the actor playing Joseph Smith seemed miscast, but the movie was interesting.  I had heard about the Mormons but certainly did not have a clear idea of their travails in the United States.  Not surprisingly, the religious group faced a great deal of religious bigotry.   They kept being chased farther and farther west until they decided to go to a place that no one wanted at the time: Utah. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 


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