Thursday, November 15, 2007
my great-great-great grandfather is in the news
If you have read my profile, you would notice that I am very proud to be a sixth-generation Utahn. My family's first Utahn was John Varah Long. Born in Yorkshire, England in 1826, he was one of the first English converts and became a bit of a mucky muck in England before he set sail for America with his wife. Two children died on the boat passage. He made is way to Utah and became (among other things), a regent for the University of Deseret (now the University of Utah), an editor for the Deseret News, one of fifteen scribes/personal secretaries for Brigham Young, a lawyer, a state legislator, a businessman, and even a dentist for a short while. One of his wives, Sarah (he had 5) was a famous artist in her day as well. Her most famous painting was “Brigham Young and His Friends,” which hangs in the Church Family History office [pictured in the painting is also Mr. Long]. She was also friends with Eliza R. Snow, dubbed "Zion's poetess." By the early to mid 1860s however, John V. Long had a falling out with Church officials (in particular Brigham himself). He--and his family--were excommunicated in 1866 for "associating with the Young Men’s Social Club and other conduct unbecoming of a Latter-day Saint" as accused of "associating with Gentiles that would seek to shed Mormon blood." Sadly, he and Sarah largely disappeared from society as a result.
In 1869, John V Long was found dead in a irrigation ditch between North and West Temple. Sixty some-odd years after the fact, his daughter claimed that that fateful night John V. Long was last seen walking down North Temple with Bill Hickman, an erstwhile "destroying angel" (who boasted that he had killed many men on behalf Church leaders). The legend was that John V. Long knew too much about Mountain Meadows or the Utah Wars and after he started blabbing, he was first excommunicated, then assassinated.
Why should you care, other than the fact that it is a really interesting story about the Territorial/Pioneer days? My Great Aunt Irma recently gave a treasure trove of John V. and Sarah Long's papers to Ken Sanders to sell. The most valuable piece in the collection are two undiscovered poems by Eliza R. Snow, written in her own hand. The could be worth millions.
(Photo Credit: ABC 4 News)
There are also 11 diaries written in an archaic shorthand known as Pitman remaining out of the 115 John V. Long refers to in his diaries. Also in the collection are documents signed by Brigham Young, sermon transcripts by Young and other early Church leaders. These missing diaries include the 1857-58 period of the Mountain Meadows Massacre and Utah Wars that so intrigues historians and would clarify once and for all if the legend is based in anything other than lore.
On KUER's RadioWest, host Doug Fabrizio devoted one of their hour long programs to the papers and John V. Long, featuring a heated debate between Ken Sanders, Will Bagley and official Church historian Ron Barney.
Will we ever know exactly why John V. Long was excommunicated (no one seems to know what the Young Men's Social Club was), if Hickman killed him and why? These papers probably won't ever tell us anything on those scores. Long could have been killed by Hickman on behalf of Union Pacific, since Hickman had become a free lance killer and Long was representing plaintiffs suing the railroad. Or Long could have just fallen down drunk into the irrigation ditch, as Barney seemed to suggest.
My dad has placed calls in with Bagley and Sanders to find out more about the papers and his great great grandfather after hearing the radio show. No matter how important or unimportant who John V. Long ends up really being after deciphering all of those papers, it is so wonderful to know more about our family. (Included in the papers are genealogical records of my family going back to England to the 1700s)
I learned that John V. Long's house was on 100 South and 200 East, where the parking lot of Questar Gas' parking lot now stands in its place. That house that sands next to it, was his neighbor. The house itself was what started the falling out with the Church. A major general commandeered the Long house and Brigham Young wrote Long a very unfriendly letter demanding he pay thousands of dollars, which in the 1860s in Utah Territory was a lot of money, Long owed to stay in favor with the Church.
Now more than ever, I feel great ties to Utah and Salt Lake. I can walk around Temple Square and imagine what it must have looked like that night in 1869. My parents have a painting of John V. Long in their study (complete with enormous bow tie, beard, and pen) and now I want to see if Sarah painted it.
Another family story is that someone sold their land in Bingham Canyon so that the daughters could go to college. Of course, now the mountains of the Canyon is the world's largest hole in the ground (one of the few man made things you can see from space) and literally billions of dollars of copper have been extracted. Its doubtful that some documents on that issue magically appear and make news. I have to say though, I am proud of all of my ancestors even if I could have been a Rockefeller of Utah.