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.

Anson Mount as Cullen Bohannon – AMC Image

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)


  1. Interesting part of the show but inaccurate at best. There was tension…. but it was more between the mormons and the army. In fact Brigham young welcomed the railroad to Utah as a way to get his men work and to build the cities in Utah. I like the show but it seems as if they used mormons as the antagonists to just get buzz about the show. The could have just used “homesteaders” instead of “mormons” and they story wouldn’t have changed a ton.

    1. Hi Mike….thanks for the time of a visit and a comment….much appreciated. Your above statement leads me to connect the discussion to the ongoing resistance to eminent domain currently taking place in Nebraska….where generational ranchers seek to protect their land from the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

      All the best,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s