Roughing It | Study Guide

Mark Twain

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Roughing It | Appendixes | Summary



Appendix A: Brief Sketch of Mormon History

Mormonism is about 40 years old at the time Twain is writing. He explains how Joseph Smith, who discovered the Book of Mormon and founded the religion, was run out of one state after another initially. Brigham Young joined Smith's church in Ohio and began to attract new converts to the religion. He was then named as one of the Twelve Apostles and continued to rise in prominence. The Mormons were then driven out of Ohio and went to Missouri, where they were again driven out. They settled in Nauvoo, Illinois, and built a temple but once again were harassed by the locals due to polygamy, a practice Smith denied. Meanwhile, Young had traveled to Britain and established a branch of the church there. When he returned to the States, he brought hundreds of converts with him. Joseph Smith was then killed, and a Mormon named Rigdon took over the presidency of the church. Rigdon attempted to make prophecies, but Young denounced him as a false prophet and was elected president himself. Young decided to move the group westward to unoccupied wilderness, so he set fire to the temple, and they marched out of Illinois in the cold of February. They camped in western Iowa for two years, during which many died from cold, illness, and hunger. Young traveled ahead and in 1847, founded Great Salt Lake City in a land beyond the boundaries of the hated United States. Soon thereafter, though, Mexico lost the war and ceded this same territory to the United States. Congress then created the "Territory of Utah," ignoring the fledging "State of Deseret" that Young had proclaimed in 1849. However, Young was named governor of the new territory.

Great Salt Lake City thrived as emigrants passed through on the way to California. Young added polygamy as a recognized tenet of the church, claiming this had been revealed to Smith nine years prior. Young then proclaimed himself as a god, and announced his own heaven, to which all faithful Mormons would gain admittance. The more wives and children a family had, the higher its prominence in heaven would be.

Mark Twain here reminds the reader that for 40 years, the Mormons had been persecuted simply for trying to live according to their own religion. Therefore, he says, their hatred of the United States and Gentiles is perhaps understandable. As the church grew strong in Utah, the United States tried to retain power by sending its own territorial officers from the East. Nobody paid heed to the laws they enacted, however, nor the judgments passed down by Gentile judges in the Utah courts. Over time, these Eastern officers either gave in and became "despised tools and toys of the Mormons" or were scared out of the territory. Brigham Young was the only leader with any power in the region—a de facto monarch who ignored the laws and directives of the United States.

Appendix B: The Mountain Meadows Massacre

Mark Twain declares that the Mormons, angry at having to endure the interference of an outside government, repaid persecution with persecution. The Mountain Meadows Massacre was a shocking event that stunned the United States and was perpetrated by the Mormons, says Twain. A small number of discontented Mormons, hoping to escape life in Utah, joined an emigrant train passing through Salt Lake City. The Mormons took this as an excuse to attack the train—which also happened to be rich with desirable property such as livestock. Brigham Young ordered the attack on the train, declaring this command to be a "revelation" from God. The attackers were to disguise themselves as Indians and kill the entire party of emigrants, and then send the teams of livestock back to Young. His followers obeyed and attacked the train, which defended itself effectively for five days. The Mormons then tried "military strategy," removing their Indian disguises and approaching the encamped wagons waving a truce flag. The emigrants welcomed the white men with cheers, and the Mormons promised to escort them safely back to settled lands if they would leave their possessions behind. Wishing to save their families, the emigrants agreed, and an armed escort began marching them away from the wagons. A mile out, the armed Mormons mowed down the entire group of 120 settlers, leaving only 17 very young children alive.

Mr. Cradlebaugh, the federal judge in Utah at the time, attempted to investigate the massacre, but the Mormon-packed juries would not indict anyone. He then dismissed the juries and began arresting people and examining witnesses by himself. As new information came to light, many of the top leaders of the church were implicated in various murders and robberies committed against Gentiles. However, Cradlebaugh did not have the support he needed to make any charges stick, since the current governor, Cumming, worked against him to protect the Mormons. Twain then quotes a summary of the testimony given against Brigham Young and the Mormons. The evidence cited includes Young's failure to report the massacre as Superintendent of Indian Affairs, the testimony of the surviving children, and the fact that property from the emigrant train was found in Mormon possession the day after the attack.

Appendix C: Concerning a Frightful Assassination That Was Never Consummated

Mark Twain profiles Conrad Wiegand, the Superintendent of the Gold Hill (Nevada) Assay Office, a man full of his own self-importance. Wiegand also preaches his own religion and publishes his own paper, the People's Tribune. Wiegand publishes an article attacking several people, who then retaliate. After this, Wiegand airs the entire affair in the Territorial Enterprise, which Twain excerpts in its entirety. "It is the richest specimen of journalistic literature the history of America can furnish, perhaps," he states. The article is titled, "A Seeming Plot for Assassination Miscarried," and tells the following account:

Some months prior, the editor of the Enterprise had warned Wiegand not to publish scandals concerning the local mines. Doing so would only result in Wiegand's business and financial ruin, injury, and possible death. Wiegand writes that these predictions have mostly come true. His assay business has dropped off since his publication of such scandals. His newspaper has received almost no financial support, besides the money he himself has poured into it. Furthermore, he was assaulted twice by men who objected to his publishing their names in his stories. Now Wiegand is waiting to see when "the whole of your prophecy will be fulfilled," meaning, his own murder. Still, the "spirit of true Liberty" cries out, demanding Wiegand publish the name of his attackers, and he does: John B. Winters, President of the Yellow Jacket Company, and Philip Lynch, owner of the Gold Hill News. Wiegand then claims that he would likely not have published the names except that Winters himself was bragging of the incident around town. Therefore, he feels compelled to tell his side of the story and show that he is not a coward.

Wiegand then retells the events that had occurred in detail. On Thursday, Wiegand was beaten in the street over the accounts he had published. On Saturday, Winters sent word wanting to see Wiegand in his office. Wiegand, unsure of his safety, had taken along a neighbor as a witness. The neighbor, however, had already heard that Winters was threatening to beat or kill Wiegand, so he didn't want to go. Instead, he arranged to have Winters meet Wiegand at Wiegand's office. Wiegand then invites Sheriff Cummings to his office to wait for Winters, who never arrives. However, Lynch does arrive, stating that Winters is in Lynch's own office and will see Wiegand there. Wiegand reluctantly agrees, but makes sure the sheriff will be near at hand in case he should call out for help. When they arrive, Wiegand is led to a private room below and fears he has been tricked. "Traps commonly are not set for benevolence," he remarks ominously.

In the room are Lynch and Winters, who asks Wiegand to retract in writing his "damnably false charges" against himself "in that infamous lying sheet of yours." In a very threatening manner, he demands that Wiegand sign a paper that says he made the stories up with malicious intent. Although afraid, Wiegand tries to reason with Winters, asking him to point out the articles that offend him so that Wiegand can explain any misunderstandings. When Winters points out the offending article, Wiegand refuses to admit having written it. He states that all articles in his paper are published anonymously, and he then refuses to name the author despite Winters's demand that he do so. Wiegand then continues by trying to show how the language in the article is only speculative and levels no actual "charges" at Winters. Lynch supports Winters, saying the statements are certainly "insinuations" if not "charges." Winters again demands a retraction, cursing extravagantly and shaking his fist at Wiegand. Wiegand tries to rise from his chair, but Winters pushes him back down again. This happens several times during the conversation. It then occurs to Wiegand that he is helpless and unarmed, and that Lynch would be the only witness should violence occur. He does not wish to apologize or sign the statement, nor to reveal the author's identity, yet he doesn't want to die either. [Twain here interjects, "The reader is requested not to skip the following."]

Wiegand pretends to go along to gain his freedom, agreeing to write "a certain kind of retraction." He keeps his hands in plain sight so the men won't think he is reaching for a weapon, and he remains outwardly calm. He also tries to use "mesmeric power" on Winters in desperation to prevent the man from harming him. Wiegand writes not a true retraction, but a letter which he hopes will "speak the truth into Mr. Winters's mind." In the letter, he states only that he does not know whether the allegations against Winters are true, and he hopes that they are disproven. This satisfies neither Winters nor Lynch, but Wiegand refuses to write any other retraction. Winters threatens to "thrash you to within an inch of your life" and maybe worse, and he begins to beat Wiegand with a rawhide (whip). Wiegand does not fight back, only using his arms to shield his head. Winters ceases his beating and then threatens to cut off Wiegand's ear if he ever prints Winters's name again.

In his letter to the Enterprise, Wiegand speculates that the men had intended to kill him the moment he signed a retraction. Furthermore, he expects that Lynch would have testified that Winters killed him in self-defense. He is only writing these statements now, he says, because he fears he will be killed and he thinks the whole situation should be made public. Wiegand then surmises that it was only his own mesmerism of Winters which allowed him to escape the room alive. Wiegand then proclaims that the public should bring any scandalous stories to him which they are afraid to publish themselves. He pledges to expose all villainy until the day he is murdered, in the name of God and liberty.

Twain wraps up the anecdote by saying that they should have beaten Wiegand in the street where he would at least have had a chance to run. He further states that a journalist who libels a citizen based on hearsay "deserves to be thrashed for it."


Appendices are usually strictly factual, but as in the rest of the text, Twain inserts his own opinions and interpretations of the events he records. Twain does give some leeway to the Mormons as he records their history, noting that the persecution they faced could indeed cause resentment and the desire for revenge. The Mormons had simply been trying to live according to their religious beliefs, he notes. Brigham Young had tried to establish an independent domain outside the United States, but circumstances then shifted the land they occupied into U.S. possession. The Mormons' desire for freedom of religion and self-governance parallels that of the founding of the United States itself.

Polygamy seems to be the main objection many people of Twain's time had against Mormonism (and perhaps even today). However, polygamy could be called a "victimless crime" in today's parlance, assuming the women were willing participants. Therefore, it is possible to see the Mormons' position as a reasonable one.

Despite this attempt at fairness, Twain includes his own bias, which seems to be against the Mormons. He portrays the Mormons as the unquestioned villains in the Mountain Meadows Massacre, based on the testimonies he has reproduced in Appendix B. Twain's sensational account of the massacre presents the premeditated slaughter of innocent emigrants for revenge and for financial gain. The absolute truth of the massacre, however, has not been definitively proved to this day. It has not been proved that Young ordered the attack, and some evidence suggests that Young actually advised his followers not to disturb the wagon train. Some theorize that the attack was carried out by an independent group of Mormons, but again, definitive proof is lacking.

In Appendix C, Twain lets Wiegand's writing speak for itself, hardly bothering to skewer the man with his own commentary. Wiegand's language is convoluted, and as Twain implies in the opening paragraph, could be characterized as thoroughly self-important. Perhaps, though, Twain influences the reader to see things his way by his opening statements that Wiegand is full of himself. It is clear through Twain's side-commentary during the newspaper excerpts that he is mocking Wiegand and finds the entire account absurd. But while Wiegand's language does seem overblown and self-justifying, the truth is that Twain cannot know for certain what happened between Wiegand, Winters, and Lynch. Wiegand's account may be entirely true (making allowances for his odd claim that he had influenced Winters through "mesmerism"). The reader sees two perspectives on the story here, Wiegand's and Twain's, but tangible evidence is not presented to either support or discredit Wiegand's story. Twain does state that he includes the story in Roughing It as an example of "journalistic literature," so perhaps his intent is once again simply to entertain the reader rather than to draw conclusions about the event itself.

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