In 1874 a short lived satirical newspaper appeared in Utah, under the title Enochâ€™s Advocate: A Temporary Journal Devoted to the Interests of the United Order of Wooden Shoes. The paperâ€™s sole intent was to take jabs both in picture and in print at Brigham Young and the United Order effort he had launched territory wide that year. Justin, in an earlier thread here at T&S quoted from a song printed in the Advocate:
The King of the Mormons
Iâ€™m Brigham Young of the Mormon Band,
Whose faith is built upon the sand;
My will is law through all the land
Inhabited by the Mormons.
My people shall wear wooden shoes,
wooden shoes, wooden shoes,
My people shall wear wooden shoes
While Iâ€™m the King of the Mormons.
Of Enox order Iâ€™m the head.
The people by of the nose are led.
On sorghum they shall all be fed
While Iâ€™m the King of the Mormons.
. . . .
The revelations through me given,
Are steady as the winds of Heaven.
Some last for weeks, quite six or seven,
And greatly bother the Mormons.
Enox order is the last,
is the last, is the last,
Enox order is the last,
And wooden shoes for the Mormons.
In the same issue the paper printed a mock revelation on the United Order which in part read: â€œAnd now, behold, I have given unto you the principles of unity and oneness and are they not simple? That all clocks may tick alike, regulate them by one clock; and that all brains may think alike, regulate ye them by one brain. Now behold this is heavenly and full of beauty, for it keepeth down aspiring clocks and brains, and it surpresseth much criticism which is always of the evil one.â€
It continued, â€œAnd now as to the common people, I say unto you that it is wisdom that they be taught that wooden shoes and colored shirts and home made clothing is all that is necessary for the working man in Zion; and the women that they abolish ribbons and long skirts and all appendages which use up money: and this because it saveth means for the chief Treasurer.â€
Clearly, wooden shoes in the Advocate became a discourse designed to disparage perceived Mormon blind obedience. It also symbolized the perception that Brigham Young was using the United Order to grow wealthy at the expense of his followers, who were reduced to wearing wooden shoes.
The same year that the Advocate published its version of life in the territory, Mormon authorities from St. George organized a United Order effort at Hebron, Utah a small ranching outpost on the southern rim of the Great Basin close to the Utah/Nevada border and the Washington/Iron County line. While there were several different levels of participation in the United Order movement, generally those involved consecrated all or part of their properties to the Church, with the aim of becoming economically and socially equal. United Order participants were encouraged to use only material goods produced within the order, which in some cases were inferior to items available in commercial marketsâ€”or among local Native Americans. In southern Utah, the effort to avoid importing leather led to the production of wooden-bottomed shoes, with â€œstrong clothâ€ for uppers. Brigham Young told women at St. George that using the shoes would not only save the Saints money but would be especially helpful during the scorching southern Utah summers when the ground became heated. (See Leonard J. Arrington, Feramorz Y. Fox, and Dean L. May, Building the City of God: Community and Cooperation among the Mormons (1976; reprint, Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1992), 157-58 and James G. Bleak, â€œAnnals of the Southern Utah Mission,â€ typescript, vol. B, 260, Special Collections, J. Willard Marriot Library, University of Utah).
Despite such admonition from Brigham Young, Hebronite Orson Welcome Huntsman complained that the wooden shoes were uncomfortable and that he could hardly walk in them; they made him stumble and felt clumsy on his feet. Huntsman went to Moroniâ€™s camp ( a local Southern Paiute band) and struck a bargain with Moroni. Huntsman gave Moroni â€œa pan full of potatoes and a little flourâ€ in exchange for Moroni making him â€œa good pair of Moccasins.â€ Huntsman wore his new footwear to church the following Sunday, where â€œthe Bishop and others had to acknowledge that the moccasins took the shine off the old wooden shoes, both for comfort and hansome [sic].â€ As Huntsman recalled, his trade spelled â€œthe end of the wooden shoe here.â€ (Diary of Orson W. Huntsman, typescript, vol. I, 78, L. Tom Perry Special Collections Library, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University).
On one level this little twig of wooden shoe history could be viewed as another chink in the armor of a Monolithic Mormonism described in Dave Banackâ€™s thread. It certainly signals a lack of evidence at the grass roots level for blind obedience to uncomfortable footwear. (I would suggest that at Hebron there is considerable evidence of this in issues other than wooden shoes as well. In the 1880s when Hebronâ€™s bishop was frequently in hiding due to the federal crackdown on polygamy, Hebronites lobbied for a new bishop. St. George authorities obliged. When the new bishop chose his counselors, however, one refused to serve and the congregation voted down the other).
Beyond the issue of priestly rule and blind obedience, for the historian this episode teaches important lessons on sources as well. How should we weigh the evidence from the various sources? How much should we rely upon the Advocate for information? Huntsmanâ€™s diary? Brigham Youngâ€™s speeches? If the Advocate were our only source on wooden shoes, what conclusions might we draw? If Youngâ€™s message to St. George women on wooden shoes were our only source, how would it shape our view? Or, if Huntsmanâ€™s diary were the single source, what message might it send?
Now translate these questions to the macro level: When writing Mormon history, how can we best understand this faith? How should we weigh the evidence from the various sources and from what vantage point can we most profitably view it? Should we view it from the vantage point of its critics, people who are on the outside and therefore not blinded by the irrational pitfalls of the believer? Or, should we rely more heavily on the view from the pulpit, carefully parsing quotes from the LDS hierarchy found in the Journal of Discourses or other such sources to best understand the faith. Or does the truest picture of Mormonism emerge not from the pulpit, but from the pew, from the people like Orson Welcome Huntsman who actually lived Mormonism â€œon the ragged edge,â€ (to borrow a phrase from Juanita Brooks)?
How do we, in other words, truly understand what it was like to walk in wooden shoes?