A preview for the ninth and penultimate episode of Season 3 of AMC’s Hell on Wheels appears to presage a conflict between the westward-building Union Pacific railroad and a group of Mormons located in what would now be the state of Wyoming.
The potential conflict is part of a narrative arc that began in the current season (set in 1867) when lead character Cullen Bohannon (Anson Mount) was compelled to execute a young Mormon man for the killing of the railroad’s chief-of-police at a Mormon homestead. Complicating the execution was the sense that the murder had not been committed by the young man but potentially by his father. The Mormon family-in-question had been refusing to cede their land to the railroad’s right-of-way. When Bohannon is unable to find an alternate route around the homestead, the chief-of-police is sent to activate the power of eminent domain and give payment for the land – the Mormon family resisted.
The tensions between railroads and Mormon settlers played out in Hell on Wheels have historical antecedents. The “Utah War” was an armed conflict from May 1857 to July 1858 that took place in the then-Utah Territory between Mormon settlers and US soldiers. Federal troops were sent to Utah in 1857 to protect a non-Mormon territorial governor who had been appointed by President Buchanan. Utah Territory initially had Brigham Young, leader of the Mormon Church, as its governor. Claims that Young did not allow the territorial government and judiciary to operate outside of church – and Young’s – control, as well as that non-Mormons were not welcomed in Utah, led to the end of Young’s term as governor. Mormon raiders destroyed numerous supply wagons for the US army travelling into the territory. In September of 1857, a party of Mormons in southern Utah killed approximately 140 members of a non-Mormon wagon train bound for California in what became known as the Mountain Meadows Massacre.
Season 3 of Hell on Wheels airs Saturday nights on AMC at 9E/8C.
(Copyright – Chad Beharriell)