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A Legacy of Distrust

In 1857, the Buchanan Administration faced a series of national challenges. Civil war loomed on the horizon, the New York stock market was in trouble, Federal troops were sent to quash unrest in Kansas and Washington D.C.

Mutual mistrust, suspicion, and poor communications between Washington and Salt Lake City had been festering for a decade. The perception in Washington was that church leader / Territorial Governor Brigham Young was challenging Federal authority in the territory.

President Buchanan decided to replace Young as Governor. Thinking his decision might meet with resistance, Buchanan dispatched 2,500 troops to Utah. They left Fort Leavenworth, Kansas in July marching 1,000 miles along the Oregon Trail. The commander, Brevet General Albert Sidney Johnston, did not reach the army until near Fort Bridger. In Utah, the territory was mobilized to resist “invasion.” Plans were made for a “scorched earth” defense.

A brief brush with Utah militiamen convinced acting commander Colonel F.B. Alexander to improve preparedness. The army and its supply trains were strung out along the trail for over 50 miles. Many supply trains had no military escort and were ordered to wait for soldiers before proceeding. For three such wagon trains, their escorts would arrive too late.

There are four historic markers here:

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California/Mormon/Oregon/Pony Express Trail.