Forget polygamists, Mitt descends from a DESERTER!!!!

With all the recent attention to Mitt Romney’s polygamous ancestors, I’m surprised no one has yet commented on the really colorful and interesting ancestor, a decorated Prussian soldier who emigrated to the U.S., marched with the Utah Expedition against the Mormons in 1857, then deserted the army and sought asylum in Salt Lake City, eloping with his Iron Cross.

Mitt’s father, we all know, was George W. Romney – the W. stands for “Wilcken,” which name comes from Mitt’s great-great-grandfather, Charles Henry Wilcken:

Mitt Romney, son of
George Wilcken Romney, son of
Anna Pratt Romney, daughter of
Anna Wilcken Pratt, daughter of
Charles Henry Wilcken

When this story spreads to political blogs and AP wire stories and other news outlets, remember, folks, you read it on T&S first. And yes, I mock those sensation-mongers by my choice of title here.

An excerpt from Charles Henry Wilcken’s autobiography:

“I arrived in the United States in the Spring of 1857 – green from Germany. Of course like most all emigrants, I was much disappointed in my anticipations. Not understanding the language, I failed to find employment, but in German quarters I heard a great deal of talk about an uprising of the Mormons in Utah; that recruiting offices had been established to raise troops to be sent against these rebels. Here then was my chance for something to do. The old war spirit revived, I having been through a campaign in Germany in the years 1848-49 and 50 in the war of Sleswig-Holstein against Denmark. So, lacking better employment, I enlisted in the army.

“From now on excitement was kept up. I was sent to Governors Island where everything was bustle, recruits being drilled in the manual bf war and target shooting and being got ready to kill the wicked Mormons.

“Here I will remark that a great many of the private soldiers had an idea that the Mormons were some tribe of Indians, but the better informed ones, especially the officers and a great many of the non-commissioned officers, knew better, and were revelling in the anticipation of the good times they would have with the Mormon wives and girls after the men had all been disposed of.

“Two or three weeks passed in drilling, etc., then a number of us were picked out and sent to Fort Leavenworth to fill up the Phelps Battery. So I soon became a full fledged artillery man. At the Fort also everything was bustle and hurry, all were talking about the “Mormons.”

“About the middle of July the great army consisting of infantry, cavalry and artillery, numbering about 2500 men, with immense supply trains, started on their eventful journey across the plains. We reached Hams Fort, nearly fifty miles east of Fort Bridger, about the beginning of October without any serious mishaps; however, a day or two before we reached Hams Fort, the different detachments were somewhat disturbed by having their horses and mules stampeded during nights, so that the body of the force was constantly kept awake. Animals had to be kept tied up at night and could feed in the day time only under heavy guard. Troubles began to increase from day to day. Little squads of daring Mormons would show themselves on the surrounding hills, then disappear and shortly after would be seen somewhere else, which made us think that the hills were full of them. …

“About this time I had had all I wanted of life in the “Flower of the American Army.” I had, as stated, served three years in a well-regulated and disciplined army, where every soldier was considered a gentleman. Here I found myself in the ranks of the lowest kind of humanity. In those days none but the scum of society would enlist for a paltry wage of $13.00 per month, unless they were green-horns and unacquainted with conditions. All manner of crimes were committed and as for discipline, there was none. Under these conditions I made up my mind to take “French leave,” make my way to some Mormon camp, and in due time take up my. journey to California. I had gained by this time the full confidence and respect of the commanding officer, Captain Phelps. From him I got permission on the morning of the 6th of October, to go hunting, with the fatherly advice to be careful and not let the Mormons take me prisoner.

“After looking over the maps, of the country, which I found in the Captain’s tent, I took my course westward and at noon the following day, I came in sight of Fort Bridger. I was met some little distance from the Fort by two Mormon officers, and was happily surprised at the kind treatment they extended to me. On arriving in camp dinner was prepared and while I was enjoying my meal, we saw an immense herd of cattle coming to the Fort. These proved to be cattle Lot Smith had taken on Green River where he had captured a number of supply trains. After destroying all the supplies and burning all the wagons, the cattle were brought here to be sent to Salt Lake City. This was the greatest blow to the army – winter setting in and no provisions and none within a thousand miles. After some little rest it was decided to start with the herd of cattle to Salt Lake. …”

Wilcken soon arrived in Salt Lake City, where he was allowed the run of the city. He soon joined the LDS Church, to which he remained faithful the rest of his life.

Wilcken is one of those characters who is unfamiliar to most of us today, but whose name continually appears on the historical record. Wilcken served as coachman, bodyguard, and personal servant to John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff. He served an LDS mission, carrying papers that identified him as a former prisoner-of-war of the Mormons to protect him in case he was arrested for desertion. He was a Salt Lake City policeman, and served in other civil positions.

For an overview of his life and some photographs, see William C. Siefrit, “Charles Henry Wilcken: An Undervalued Saint,” Utah Historical Quarterly, vol. 55, no. 4 (Fall 1987), 308-321, which has been conveniently posted here.

24 comments for “Forget polygamists, Mitt descends from a DESERTER!!!!

  1. Nice title, Ardis. Unbelievable that the press would bring up polygamist ancestry. Unbelievable.

    Interesting story, too. Sounds a little like my hubby’s great+ grandpa…was in both armies in the Civil War. :)

  2. I wonder what we’d find if we dug up all of the Presidential hopefuls’ pedigrees. After all, if Mitt is to be judged by his ancestors, it would be too much of a double standard to leave out the other candidates’ lines. I’ll bet that Obama’s got polygamous ancestors within the last few hundred years (not that it troubles me at all).

    Interesting family history stories.

  3. Hooray for G-G-G-Grandpa Carl Heinrich Wilcken!

    His daughter Anna was married to Helaman Pratt, son of Parley. In Mexico in 1892(!) Helaman married his 3rd wife (and Anna’s by-then middle-aged sister) Bertha Christine Wilcken.

    Like George Romney, I also have Wilcken as my middle name, as do my fathers before me, all the way back to Bertha.

    I keep forgetting that Mitt’s my second half-cousin once removed. Weird.

  4. My goodness, I haven’t heard anyone say such disparaging things about the US Military since John Kerry’s last public speech.

  5. Ardis, this is wonderful. I hope you keep digging up fascinating but forgotten parts of history and sharing it with us. Is there any chance you might discover anything about Giuliani or McCain? That would be great.

  6. My my, how small the world is. So Romney has a connection to Wilcken. I got to know Wilcken because he was involved in an incident which led to the lynching of a black man, Sam Joe Harvey, in Salt Lake City. Here are a few little details. Both are from my endnotes in _Bound for Canaan_.

    Charles Henry Wilcken was born in Holstein, Germany on Oct. 5, 1830. When enroute to South America, he inadvertently boarded the wrong ship, and “found himself, several weeks later, in New York.” Being short of cash, he joined an enlistment of men “to go to the western desert to put down a tribe of rebellion ‘Indians” called Mormons” (Seifrit, “Charles Henry Wilcken,” 309). He deserted Johnston’s Army on Oct. 7, 1857, and was soon captured by Mormon defender Jonathan Ellis Layne, who eventually turned him over to Porter Rockwell (310). Ultimately, he became a body guard for Brigham Young and was one of George Q. Cannon’s best friends.

    By the time of the Aug. 23, 1883 incident, Charles Wilcken was Salt Lake City’s watermaster and “special police officer” (Seifrit, “Undervalued Saint,” 314). Seifrit says of Wilcken’s involvement, “Wilcken had been summoned to subdue and take into custody a violent man, drunk, who was causing a disturbance and threatening citizens with a gun. During the fray, [Andrew] Burt was shot and killed, and Wilcken suffered a serious gunshot wound but nevertheless managed to subdue the gunman. He was unable, however, to prevent a mob from taking the prisoner from jail and lynching him”

  7. Let’s get this straight:
    a)being seriously wounded from the gunshot wound, Wilcken was left alone to guard the prisoner after he was subdued?
    Or (b) was Wilcken out getting medical care, and for that reason, unable to prevent the mob?

    Because the ambiguities in that account sound like a bit of a hatchet job, frankly, implying blame where none should reasonably apply.

  8. Remember that these are ENDNOTES. The chapter (which I’m not going to put in the blog) gives the sequence of events; this is simply supporting data so that if a reader wants to research the incident, they have a source to turn to. Elijah Abel also subdued Sam Joe Harvey, according to reliable accounts (provided in the endnotes), as did others. Wilcken had nothing to do with the subsequent lynching. Sam Joe Harvey was taken to jail and released to the growing and insistent mob. Then he was hanged and dragged through SLC. About 2,000 people comprised the mob, according to some sources. They were summarily condemned at the funeral of Andrew Burt (the man whom Harvey had killed). Rachel Wooley Simmons wrote in her diary of the mob: “For it to happen in the shadow of the Salt Lake Temple–it don’t show a Christian feeling.”

  9. Onelowerlight– it doesn’t take much looking to find out about Obama’s father’s interesting marital history, or some of his other ancestors. Obama discusses it in his first book. I’m not going into detail here about it, since I don’t remember specifically, but if I remember right his father had four wives, not all at once, and grandfather was polygamist. But I don’t remember well enough that I want to say for sure.
    And actually, the church usually does dig up the presidents’ pedigrees– they usually do a pedigree and there’s a little press release that doesn’t get a lot of attention, about the time of the inaugural, maybe a bit before.
    I don’t think it’s too surprising, or out of line to report on MItt’s ancestors– if the others had anything equally interesting I think it would be reported on– and probably will be.

  10. Margaret, it *is* a small world. F.H. Grice is one of my “persons of interest” — if he figures high enough in your Sam Joe Harvey story, let’s talk.

    Thanks to the (most of the) rest of you who took this post in the spirit I intended it. You made me laugh.

  11. Francis Grice does indeed figure high in the Sam Joe Harvey history. We also cover him in _Bound for Canaan_, though he is a minor character. You and I will have to do lunch sometime!

  12. This entire thing is a load of crap put up buy someone who obviously has no life. No one is responsible for things their parents, grandparents, or other family members do. The only people or person Mitt Romney is responsible for is himself and the actions of his minor children, that is if he has any. I don\’t know that much about the man but to actually even bring up something a family member did over 100 years ago to try to somehow make him look bad is COMPLETELY IDIOTIC! I\’m sure ALL of us have family members that did things hundreds of years ago that we would think was horrible. Possible slaughter of American Indians, and slave owning I\’m sure is amongst their actions. I find those things WAY more disturbing than a man having 2 or 3 wives back in the late 1800’s. It was a much different time and people thought very differently than we do today. So PLEASE, find something a little more worth while to slam the guy with than what his great grandpa did almost 100 years before he was born.

  13. “No one is responsible for things their parents, grandparents, or other family members do. ”

    Exactly, Leah. But you _are_ responsible for your own stupid comments.

    So, please read the T&S comment policies before commenting further: . Also, try cracking open a dictionary, and looking up terms like “tongue-in-cheek.”

    This may help you to do something a little more worth while than to slam a blogger for an obviously tongue-in-cheek post intro.

  14. Leah, you may have been living in a bubble for the past year. This piece mocks the tone of the breathless news reports about the polygamists in Mitt Romney’s ancestry. Repeat: It mocks the NEWS REPORTS, not Mitt Romney. If you’d actually read past the title and down into the body of the post, you could possibly recognize a very admiring account of Charles Henry Wilcken, someone I’ve come to know quite well and very much respect in my studies on the Utah War. He is the kind of ancestor most of us, me included, would be proud to claim.

    I accept in advance the embarrassed apology I’m sure you would make if you had the nerve.

  15. Oh boy, I was just looking at the comments sidebar and wondering why you were discussing Mitt Romney again. Now that I’ve read your comments, the answer is… who knows?!? I guess it’s nice in a way that your ancient posts are still generating interest, Ardis. They’ll have to put you in the hall of fame with the vacuum post at MMW.

  16. Adventures in Arizona still is the standard. Once this post receives periodic comments for over a year, with a total of around 250, it can begin to be discussed in hushed, reverential tones.

    You know I love you, Ardis, but . .

  17. Well, then, Ray, Adventures in Arizona is safe. I’m not sure anything I ever posted reached 100 even when it was the only thing up.

    Now if I were a vacuum cleaner salesman …

  18. Yes, Leah was mistaken and jumped to an inappropriate conclusion through either carelessness or naivete. Yes, she made the further mistake of using derisive language in her response, which was likewise inappropriate. She’s been more than sufficiently castigated. Ouch.

Comments are closed.