Famous Meetings in History Sir Richard Burton Meets Brigham Young Part 1

About the meeting of the famous Mormon leader Brigham Young and English explorer Sir Richard Burton, history and account of the meeting.

Sir Richard Burton Meets Brigham Young

When: 1860

Where: Salt Lake City, U.

Who: Thirteen years earlier, ex-carpenter Brigham Young had led Mormon immigrants from Illinois across the prairies to the Salt Lake valley. A brilliant organizer, he had directed the building of Salt Lake City in the state of Deseret, which he headed. As the chief prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints, he advocated polygamy. Young himself kept numerous wives--some sources say 19, others say 27. Capt. Richard Burton (later Sir Richard), the fabulous English explorer, Orientalist, author, and translator of The Arabian Nights, was 39 when he reached Salt Lake City. Expelled from Oxford in his youth, he had later become a captain in the Bombay Native Infantry. When British Intelligence requested a report on conditions in Karachi, Burton had presented them with an essay on sexual perversions among the Indians. At home in Goa as well as Somaliland, he had discovered Lake Tanganyika. He had mastered a dozen languages, including Jataki, an Afghan dialect. Seven years earlier, determined to become one of the few white men to visit forbidden Mecca, he had dyed his skin brown, memorized the intricate Muslim ritual, and had himself circumcised in a painful operation. Then, disguised as a Pathan, an Afghanistan Muslim, he had successfully entered Mecca.

What Led to the Meeting: Burton traveled to the American West for two reasons. The first was that he wanted to fight Indians. With a letter of introduction from the U.S. secretary of war, he stopped at Fort Kearny to enlist in the First Cavalry. He was told that a battle had just been concluded against the Comanches and Kiowas, and that there was no immediate action in sight. His second reason for going West took him to Salt Lake City. The practice of polygamy in Eastern countries had always intrigued him, and now that the Mormons were practicing it, Burton was eager to see how it worked. Wearing buckskins, Burton arrived in Salt Lake City carrying Bartlett's Dictionary of Americanisms, two pistols, a long knife, a bottle of cognac, and some opium. He appealed to the recently appointed governor of the territory, 240-lb. Alfred Cumming of Georgia, asking him to arrange a meeting with Brigham Young. Cumming arranged the meeting.

What Happened: At noon on Aug. 31, 1860, Captain Burton, respectfully attired in stovepipe hat and dark frock coat, was led by Governor Cumming into Brigham Young's office, where the prophet and several aides were waiting. After introductions and hand-shaking, Burton sat on a sofa and observed the man he had crossed an ocean and a continent to see. "I had expected to see a venerable-looking old man," Burton wrote later. "Scarcely a gray thread appears in his hair, which is parted on the side, light-colored, rather thick, and reaches below the ears with a half curl. . . . The hands are well made, and not disfigured by rings. The figure is somewhat large, broad-shouldered, and stooping a little when standing. . . . The Prophet's dress was neat and plain as a Quaker's, all gray homespun, except the cravat and waistcoat. . . . Altogether the Prophet's appearance was that of a gentleman farmer in New England. . . . He is a well-preserved man, a fact which some attribute to his habit of sleeping in solitude. . . . He assumes no airs of extra sanctimoniousness, and has the plain, simple manners of honesty. His followers deem him an angel of light, his foes, a goblin damned; he is, I presume, neither one nor the other. . . . He has been called hypocrite, swindler, forger, murderer. No one looks it less."

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