Providing for Local Needs Through The Co-operative Movement and The United Order
For decades after members of the Church of Jesus Christ of latter-day Saints, often referred to as Mormons, emigrated to The Great Basin, they faced a constant struggle in obtaining the essentials they needed to survive. Bringing goods from eastern manufacturers was risky, requiring vast amounts of time and energy, especially before the coming of the Transcontinental Railroad. Many merchants, especially those who were non-members of the church (referred to by the members as Gentiles,) were accused of charging wildly inflated prices for their goods, and resentment spread through the Mormon communities.
Church leaders urged their local settlements to provide as many goods for their own use as possible. The nation’s Co-operative Movement of the mid-1800s, which encouraged locals to collectively own company stock (often by commodity providers), spread quickly to numerous Mormon colonies. Under this system, local farmers and consumers often bought stock in local manufacturers and other entities, hoping to receive dividends from their commerce. Later, a movement within the church, known as The United Order distributed private property from owners, to a collective organization, that in turn provided “stewardships” of the properties to individuals involved in this voluntary collective order. The United Order was eventually discontinued, living a relatively short life. Brigham City has been recognized as one of the more successful locations of both the church’s Co-operative and United Order efforts.
In 1868, Brigham Young and other leaders founded church-owned Zion’s Co-operative Mercantile Institution, commonly referred to as ZCMI. For many years ZCMI used the slogan, “America’s first department
store.” Many of the goods produced by Co-ops in outlying areas found their way to ZCMI and its outlets through regular commerce.
Cash was short on the frontier- much of the commerce was conducted through the exchange of goods and services. An interesting passage detailed that some Co-ops printed their own script. “For convenience in exchange the Co-op issued a paper currency about two by three inches in size, known as “Home D,” in denominations similar to greenbacks, except that they have five, ten, twenty-five and fifty cent values. Dividends and labor were paid in “Home D” and merchandise.’
An 1875 letter from Brigham City’s local Stake President Lorenzo Snow, sent to Brigham Young, detailed some of Box Elder’s efforts to provide necessities under the local, burgeoning Co-operative movement . In 1898, Snow became the fifth President of the Church of Jesus Christ of latter-day Saints.
Snow began, “I will first confine my explanations more particularly to our Co-operative Institution, and give you some details respecting its organization, progress, present condition a
nitude… At this stage of progress we concluded to commence some manufactures. We erected a large and extensive tannery with various conveniences and modern improvements at a cost of ten thousand dollars.’
“After these departments were in working order, we established our woolen factory, the building and machinery costing a trifle less than forty thousand dollars. Our next move was the establishment of a sheep-herd, which consists at present of two thousand five hundred sheep, which were put in on capital stock, or rather, the original flock. Some two years ago we established a dairy on an excellent and extensive range near Bear River. Our mercantile department is under the supervision of Brother Wm. L. Watkins…and at this time is the only store in the city.’
“The store, tannery, butcher shop, boot and shoe shop, woolen factory, sheep-herd, farm and dairy constitute the Brigham City Mercantile and Manufacturing Association, and is organized under the laws of the Territory.’
“The objective of the co-operation is not so much for the purpose of creating large dividends, as it is that the people may obtain easily what their necessities demand….We sell many of our manufactured goods at wholesale prices to Zion’s Co-operative in Salt Lake City.’
“…we feel that it has been through the blessing of the Lord that so much of this work has been accomplished. I feel under the most sacred obligations to you for counsel and advice which I have received during my Presidency in this Stake of Zion. Respectfully, your brother in the Gospel, Lorenzo Snow”
“The institution was later controlled by a United Order Council consisting of sixty influential citizens of the country.”
Source: A History of Box Elder County By Frederick M. Huchel
The Rise, Fall & Rebirth of Corinne
“Corinne is located five miles west of Brigham City at the spot where the tracks of the westward moving Union Pacific Railroad crossed the Bear River. Corinne’s history is unique among the towns of Box Elder County…founded primarily as a railroad town…it was the railroad town of Utah, founded to be a bastion against the Mormon Kingdom of Brigham Young and his apostles. As such, its history is fascinating and colorful.’
“As the Union Pacific tracks entered Utah from Wyoming early in 1868, the raucous tent-town familiarly known as “Hell on Wheels” moved along with it, setting at each end-of-track camp. Though the individual sites bore names like Wahsatch, Echo and Bonneville, those “towns” were only repeated incarnations of the same group of merchants, saloon-keepers, shillers, camp followers, and brothels, with temporary quarters, put up and torn down week after week as the tracks moved on…” Corinne was the final location of “Hell on Wheels,” before the Union Pacific’s westward- heading tracks joined the east-bound tracks of the Central Pacific at nearby Promontory Summit.
In its early days, Corinne was a wide-open, no-holds-barred frontier town. Surveyed in February 1869 by the Union Pacific, Corinne was originally named Connor, or Connor City, in honor of Colonel Patrick Connor. The proud founding fathers then decided the city needed a more suitable grand name, and they picked ‘Corinne.’ “Various stories are told about the origin of the name. It was the name of a character in a popular novel of the day; it was the name of a popular actress of the time, Corinne LaVaunt. The most likely source, however, is Corinne Williamson, daughter of General J. A . Williamson, land agent for the Union Pacific…Williamson was the first temporary citizen-mayor of the city. For whom his daughter was named is not specified. Perhaps it was the actress.’
“Not only was this a railroad town, it was a rallying point for all those who hated, feared, or were discomforted by the Mormon culture.” There were according to some reports, twenty-eight saloons and eighty “soiled doves” plying their wares… the city fathers passed an ordinance prohibiting polygamy within the city limits. There was even a petition requesting the removal of the territorial capital from Salt Lake City to Corrine.” “Corinne had a baseball team, an ice skating pond, and hotels, one of them—the central Hotel—a fine two-story brick structure.” “There was an entire block set aside for a university, and another for a Catholic church. The Gentiles, as the Mormons referred to non-Mormons, designed to rule the territory from Corinne and amid its ‘Gentile’ notoriety, Corinne boomed.
“Corinne was positioned to be a hub of transportation and commerce. Trains of freight wagons lumbered between Corinne and the Montana mines. Produce went north, ore came south. Before long, steamboats were plying the waters of Bear River and the Great Salt Lake…The most famous steamboat was the City of Corinne. The city had a grand Opera House, with a spring dance floor (underpinned by springs from box cars.) It was the largest such hall north of Salt Lake City.’
“The law firm of Johnson and Underdunk provided a device which operated somewhat like a slot machine. With the insertion of a $2.50 gold piece and the pull of a handle, one had a signed, sealed legal divorce document lacking only the names of the parties involved.’
But after the Utah Northern Railroad extended its tracks north, through Brigham City into Idaho, Corinne began a decline. Now Ogden was the junction city. “Even the canal turned against Corinne. The water leached alkali salts up through the soil, and the crops and trees died. Corinne withered on the vine.” Eventually the salts were drained from the land, and its land eventually produced bountiful crops. “Corinne survived as a town because of the land, not the railroad. Brigham Young had said that agriculture was to be the mainstay of Utah, and his prophecy has come to pass.’
“Corinne had the first U.S. weather station in Utah, the first non-Mormon meeting house, the first water system, the first drainage system, the first export of precious metal ore to the outside, the first public school, and of course, the first (and only known) divorce vending machine.”
Corinne’s strategic geographical position has been fulfilled as distribution and transportation companies, such as Walmart and others have located in the area.
Source: History of Box Elder County Reprinted in 2004 By Daughters of the Utah Pioneers, Box Elder South Company
A History of Box Elder County Utah Centennial County History Serives by Frederick M. Huchel