My People Shall Wear Wooden Shoes

In 1874 a short lived satirical newspaper appeared in Utah, under the title Enoch’s Advocate: A Temporary Journal Devoted to the Interests of the United Order of Wooden Shoes. The paper’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

I’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 I’m the King of the Mormons.

Of Enox order I’m the head.
The people by of the nose are led.
On sorghum they shall all be fed
While I’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: “And 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.”

It continued, “And 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.”

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 markets—or among local Native Americans. In southern Utah, the effort to avoid importing leather led to the production of wooden-bottomed shoes, with “strong cloth” 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, “Annals of the Southern Utah Mission,” 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 Moroni’s camp ( a local Southern Paiute band) and struck a bargain with Moroni. Huntsman gave Moroni “a pan full of potatoes and a little flour” in exchange for Moroni making him “a good pair of Moccasins.” Huntsman wore his new footwear to church the following Sunday, where “the Bishop and others had to acknowledge that the moccasins took the shine off the old wooden shoes, both for comfort and hansome [sic].” As Huntsman recalled, his trade spelled “the end of the wooden shoe here.” (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 Banack’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 Hebron’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? Huntsman’s diary? Brigham Young’s speeches? If the Advocate were our only source on wooden shoes, what conclusions might we draw? If Young’s message to St. George women on wooden shoes were our only source, how would it shape our view? Or, if Huntsman’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 “on the ragged edge,” (to borrow a phrase from Juanita Brooks)?

How do we, in other words, truly understand what it was like to walk in wooden shoes?

23 comments for “My People Shall Wear Wooden Shoes

  1. Rob
    December 10, 2007 at 3:24 pm

    Brigham Young as milkmaid. Yikes!

  2. December 10, 2007 at 4:00 pm

    Hey, gang, do we allow Tribune-style words like “coopulation” on T&S?

    Your questions are ones I have to face all the time, Paul, just like you do. To the extent I can imagine the sources and track them down, I try to find every last scrap of material related to whatever I’m working on, no matter how I mistrust the source, because you just can’t claim to have considered all the possibilities and answered all the contrary arguments until you have at least read the arguments. I don’t keep a diary, but I went home and made a note on the day I was shocked by a prominent historian (not anyone who has ever commented on T&S) who told me over lunch that he never considered the papers of Mormons in his Mormon history, that you simply could not believe a thing a Mormon said about himself, and the only way to know what the Mormons were really up to was to read the papers of their critics. No foolin’. Once you have the sources, you do have to evaluate them and sift out the accurate from the flawed, the plausible from the incredible, the likely from the it-beggars-belief, which is where the art, as opposed to the science, of history comes in.

    Or so it seems to me.

  3. Paul Reeve
    December 10, 2007 at 6:09 pm

    “Hey, gang, do we allow Tribune-style words like “coopulation” on T&S?”

    My whole goal as a guestblobber was to use “coopulation” in a post to see if anyone would catch it and toss me out. Leave it to Ardis to find that one!

    Ardis, your comment is exactly one of the issues I was trying to get at. Any historical research is inherently problematic and is more art than science at times (most of the time?). I wonder if religious history, however, isn’t doubly sticky? Some readers of the type of methodology you describe would laud it as objective history. It does not fall trap to the blinders of the believer and therefore offers an authentic view of Mormonism. In that story all Mormons were running around wearing wooden shoes in 1874 because BY told them to. If we let the wooden shoes here stand in for much more heinous behavior (leader dictated homicide, for example) it makes the use of sources that much more crucial. Cherry picked quotes from Brigham Young, strung together and touted as authentic in September Dawn is an example that needs to be balanced with evidence at the local level to see how what was preached from the pulpit actually played out in the pew. In the case of Mountain Meadows it played out horrifically. Is it always possible to establish a causal link however? That is another issue that the sources frequently leave unresolved. And what happens when the sources disagree? How do you decide which to favor?

    To be fair, our priesthood/RS manuals are also cherry picked quotes designed to promote a certain vision as well. Is there a difference?

  4. December 10, 2007 at 6:20 pm

    I don’t know, Ardis, I think it is still science (grin).

    This is a wonderful case study for the evaluation of your questions. The story of Mormonism is truly multivalent and to understand the whole we need to understand the various levels of narrative and how they are braided together.

    The story of the counselors being voted down reminded me of the time I was reading through the records of the 1850’s Union, Iowa Branch. A new presidency was bing organized and the presiding authority asked for nominations and then the congregation voted. It stands in such striking contrast to the way things are done now that it makes me smile every time I think of it.

  5. smb
    December 10, 2007 at 6:42 pm

    A fun reminder of the many valences of the historical witnesses. Ardis and Paul, I was pleased with the frisky reference to unity; perhaps we could encourage the easily offended to think of the word’s use here as the aggressive application of verbs of being.

    In my own work with anti-Mormon literature of the 1830s and 1840s, I have found them to be a wonderful resource, both for indicating what the message sounded like to outsiders and for indicating the worldview of these same outsiders. Spencer Fluhman’s excellent dissertation begins to approach some of this from a religious perspective, as has Terryl Givens’s literary analysis, but there is a lot more of the story to be told.

    I for one don’t think I quite appreciated just how emotionally and intellectually fragile evangelical “common sense” was until I waded through the angry vitriol exchanged by Mormons and evangelicals in anti-Protestant and anti-Mormon literature.

    I personally favor a variety of histories being told with a variety of purposes and audiences. For some the best history will be the Bagleyite paranoid frenzy, for others the pious platitudes of official documentation, for others “lived religion” and social history. I think a good historian will be able, with Paul (the apostle, not the blogger), to be Greek to the Greeks and Roman to the Romans. I for one find that I tell the stories in different ways when I’m writing for a Mormon audience than when I am writing to outsiders (though I will confess it is extremely time consuming and challenging to do so). A paper for Sunstone takes a dozen revisions to be ready for a mainstream journal and at least a half-dozen to be prepared for Sunday School.

    I think demanding that the story be told one way to all audiences is a lot like the oncologist who mumbles about cell-types and the physiological intricacies of chemotherapy when a patient needs to know quality and quantity of life. Or who on the other hand tells the chemotherapy nurse “have them shoot for 12 months” instead of issuing highly explicit instructions about the chemotherapy to be administered.

    On the BY wooden shoes front, I would be still more interested to hear what Brigham Young thought about the rebels, the bidirectionality of pulpit and pew.

  6. Bob
    December 10, 2007 at 7:12 pm

    “Cursed are all those that shall lift up the heel against mine anointed,” From Elder Oaks

  7. Ray
    December 10, 2007 at 9:16 pm

    Bob, they didn’t lift up their heels; they kicked them aside.

    Fascinating account and questions. What smb said; as a history teacher, I tried very hard to expose my students to multiple accounts of each event we studied – at the very least, one from the winners and one from the losers whenever there was such a division.

  8. Chad Too
    December 10, 2007 at 9:24 pm

    Threadjack: Does anyone else get a kick out of the fact that some many of our comments these days come from Bob and Ray? They’re even funny to boot!

  9. Ray
    December 10, 2007 at 9:36 pm

    Chad, it’s just that Bob and I rub each other the wrong way quite often. He thinks I’m wrong, and I think he’s a bit short of a full deck, but we respect each other (I think), anyway – at least enough to make sure everyone knows how wrong the other one is.

    Of course, it also helps that we each like to hear ourself talk.

  10. Bob
    December 11, 2007 at 12:01 am

    #8: Ok, you caught me. Ray and Bob are the same person….me, Penny.

  11. Bob
    December 11, 2007 at 12:07 am

    #7: Ray, I too like to expose people to multiple accounts.

  12. December 11, 2007 at 12:11 am


  13. Paul Reeve
    December 11, 2007 at 12:35 am

    #4 “The story of the counselors being voted down reminded me of the time I was reading through the records of the 1850’s Union, Iowa Branch. A new presidency was being organized and the presiding authority asked for nominations and then the congregation voted. It stands in such striking contrast to the way things are done now that it makes me smile every time I think of it.”

    J. That is the way the Hebron ward record affects me. It is so alive with real people struggling to get along, struggling to live their faith in a frontier setting, struggling to survive. It is examples like these that make the notion of a theo-democracy rather than a theocracy plausible.

    #5 “I personally favor a variety of histories being told with a variety of purposes and audiences.”

    SMB, I agree. It is impossible to satisfy everybody. The air of ascendancy of some versions of the past, however, shine in the face of post modernist relativism and violate this principle. Knowing your audience, as you suggest, is key. You can do that with a conference paper or Sunday School lesson, but how do you pull that off with a monograph? I recall a conversation I had with Dean May as I was writing my dissertation. Someone had suggested that I was a bit soft on the Mormons in a particular part of the manuscript. I complained to Dean that if your average Mormon read the same passages they would call me anti-Mormon. Dean said, “welcome to the story of my life.”

    The bidirectionality of pulpit and pew, as you call it, would certainly shed light on a lot of dark corners. The problem, as you know, is the lack of sources that open that exchange to our view. I’d love to know what BY thought of Huntsman ditching the wooden shoes and going for the moccasins. I’m not sure that BY ever wore the wooden shoes himself. I have no idea what was on his feet as he preached wooden shoes to southern Utah saints.

    Your study sounds fascinating. I’d love to hear more about it.

    #6 Bob, Who exactly would be cursed in this situation? The writers of the Advocate? Orson Huntsman for bailing on the wooden shoes? Me for writing the post? Or any combination of the above?

    #10, Penny, you should really stop talking to yourself.

  14. Bob
    December 11, 2007 at 2:17 am

    #13: Sorry Paul, just another joke gone bad. The quote came from the other post with the speech from Elder Oaks and the mentions of heels (wooden shoes) My Grandfather wore these shoes, and put his toes out grass as soon as possible.

  15. smb
    December 11, 2007 at 9:34 am

    The idea I’m starting to kick around is publishing a version of a particular argument in the traditional academic press that is addressed to traditional academics and then publishing a Mormon version in the Mormon press. I don’t get the sense that traditional academics read the “Mormon” press that much. Perhaps even on a blog would be a place that an author could clarify the argument for a Mormon audience. I wonder how the academy would look on public pronouncements of that type, but I suspect they would be okay with it. I actually have an email in with an editor right now to see whether he is interested in telling a broader, more detailed story in the language of Mormons after a more traditional story told in the academic press. You know, come to think of it, popular interpretation of one’s research is pretty common in biomedicine–reporters call, people issues press releases, etc. Why not have a Mormon scholar of Mormonism do the research in the official language of academe and then do something like a press release to explain the research in common terms? That might be a reasonable model.

    As for evangelical insecurity, I’ve got so many other projects that right now it’s just 30 pages of extracts from sources (I posted one idea about it a while ago, but I think it’s a story that warrants being told. On that point, I’m a little surprised that in all our work on anti-Mormonism, I am not aware of much work on anti-Protestantism, and yet it’s present in a surfeit of sources from the 1830s and 1840s (I don’t know the Utah period well, but I strongly suspect that anti-Protestantism persisted).

  16. Mark B.
    December 11, 2007 at 10:49 am

    Re the Union Branch (or Hebron):

    How much were local leaders–bishops, for example–considered spiritual leaders back then? Since wards and bishops had just been invented sometime in Nauvoo (excluding the presiding bishop, of course), how much did people look to them for spiritual leadership, as opposed to the practical issues of caring for the poor etc.

    Lorenzo Brown’s father, Benjamin, was a bishop in Winter Quarters, and either Lorenzo in his Journal or Benjamin in his “Testimonies for the Truth” make bishoping sound a lot more “practical” than “spiritual.” If that were the case generally, was selecting (or rejecting) a bishop by popular vote the same as it would be today? I’d guess that it would have been viewed quite differently.

  17. Bob
    December 11, 2007 at 11:39 am

    #16: In my doing Family History, I do find the “bishop”, was more assigned the practical issues, and a High Priest the spiritual. Not to overstate it: To me Joseph Smith was more a High Priest type, and BY more the Bishop type. The bishops in my 19th C. family, I would call ‘hard men’, who didn’t win a popularity contest, but thought as someone who could fairly put his foot down. Two were also the town sheriff.

  18. Paul Reeve
    December 11, 2007 at 12:54 pm

    #15, SMB That is a fascinating idea. I’ll be interested to learn how it plays out with the editor to whom you are talking. Even still, your Mormon audience would be the type that is engaged in a more rigorous exploration of the faith than what shopping at Deseret Book would allow. The other Mormon audience is at the popular level. I tend to shy away from crossing that boundary. I had a calling in the RS until recently (they just put in a new RS president and I think that spells my release) to do quarterly history book reviews for the large, well educated, empty nester crowd in the ward. Husbands are invited. At the end of the last review (we did Joseph Ellis’s Founding Brothers) someone asked about doing my book for the next review. I felt uncomfortable on several levels. First, having ward members buy my book for a review smacked of priestcraft (even though I get no royalties). Second, some people complained about Ellis’s writing, so I knew they would never get through mine. And third, I worry how people I go to church with will perceive my relationship to the faith if they read a history I wrote that is less than faith promoting. My wife and I have already been labeled “the most liberal couple in the ward.” It is a moniker we wear with pride, but being liberal in a Bountiful ward is not really saying much .

    As for anti-Protestantism in the Utah period, I’m sure it is there; I’ll have to pay attention as I continue my current research and share any findings with you.

    #16, Yes, I think you are correct in some ways. The bishop was looking after the temporal concerns of the ward, but also in charge of ensuring that the meetings were taking place. Hebron’s frontier location included Clover Valley, across the Utah/Nevada border in the ward boundaries, which required at least monthly trips there to check in on the saints. Interestingly, when the United Order was organized there, stake leaders did not put the bishop in charge, but another influential man. More than Huntsman’s bailing on the wooden shoes, it was tension between the bishop and the president of the UO at Hebron that account for its failure within about a year. At Hebron they also had an active adult Teacher’s quorum functioning as articulated in D&C 20 as a dispute resolution quorum. Disputes would come before the Teacher’s quorum for resolution and only if that quorum could not restore peace would it go before the bishop. Mormons often like to say how they can go anywhere in the world and the church is the same. I wonder if we’d say the same thing if we could time travel.

  19. December 11, 2007 at 3:52 pm

    Paul, you are the only man I have known with a calling in the RS. That is simply awesome.

  20. December 11, 2007 at 5:08 pm

    Thank you for the post.

    Second, some people complained about Ellis’s writing, so I knew they would never get through mine.

    What was wrong with Ellis’s writing?

  21. Kaimi Wenger
    December 11, 2007 at 5:29 pm


    I was an acting RS president for a while in a branch in Guatemala, where my comp and I comprised the branch presidency as well, and there were no literate women in the whole branch. (It’s pretty common in rural Guatemala to have only men learn how to read.) Taught RS classes, took attendance, filed reports.

    Paul’s calling looks quite a bit more official than that, though.

  22. smb
    December 11, 2007 at 6:05 pm

    Paul, I have a similar problem when friends or neighbors read academic work, but to be honest, I don’t make them wade through my biomedical publications, so why would I make them wade through cultural history? As for DB audience, I wonder whether informally circulating work among lay audiences or giving talks wouldn’t be a better way to give them the information. Or, devotional exploratory works, which I think BYUS and occasionally Dialogue will publish. Or why not do a “puff” piece for an LDS magazine (I don’t know their names, but it seems to me there are several with loose affiliations with either BYU or groups in SLC)? As long as you don’t put them on your CV, I would think no one in the professional world would care much.

  23. Paul Reeve
    December 12, 2007 at 12:00 am

    “Paul, you are the only man I have known with a calling in the RS. That is simply awesome.”

    J., Thanks! I’m quite proud of it. It ought to be worth a guest spot on fmh, I would think? It sort of evolved out of my wife’s enrichment calling. She was asked to do an occasional book review. One time she chose David McCullough’s 1776, invited the men, and asked me to lead the discussion. So many empty nester couples turned up that the RS decided to make it a more permanent thing. In the meantime my wife was put in the primary so I slid into her enrichment spot. The bishop extended the call, but I was never sustained or set apart, so I don’t know how official it really was. Sounds like what Kaimi did in Guatemala was much more meaningful service.

    Justin, some people didn’t like his style as well as McCullough. There is more analysis in Founding Brothers and less pure narrative. Some people found it very slow going. We had read 1776 and then HW Brands, Age of Gold before Ellis. The group seemed to like McCullough best. I shouldn’t overgeneralize, however, because several people really enjoyed Ellis and a couple of people in the group said that they had already ordered his new book, because they liked founding brothers so well. It really is a smart crowd and a great group of people.

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