IN THE AUTUMN of 1870, Mahlon Gilbert made a hazard of new fortunes, and set out for the far western frontier, a region rough and comfortless, with a singular civilization, or lack of civilization, such as the world will not see again. Three forces led him thither: the search for health, the pioneer spirit in his blood, and his affection for his former rector, Daniel Sylvester Tuttle, then Missionary Bishop of Montana, "with jurisdiction in Idaho and Utah." Bishop Tuttle had been consecrated to the episcopate in 1867 and was making his home in Salt Lake City. In bidding Mahlon good-bye he had said, "You will come out and work with me some day." The answer was simply, "Write me when you reach the West." The Bishop did write, and every letter increased the boy's desire to follow his friend to the land of pioneers.
When Bishop Tuttle took charge of his immense jurisdiction of 340,000 square miles in the summer of 1867, he saw quickly that the Church's greatest opportunity for useful service was in Utah. Just twenty years before, Brigham Young had led to this region a weary company of Mormon pioneers, seeking a land where they might "live their religion," that is, practise polygamy, unmolested. As they looked down from a height upon the fertile valley of Salt Lake they felt that they had come to their promised land. "Drive on, down into the valley," said their leader. "This is our abiding place! I have seen it in a vision. Here will be built the city of the Saints, and the Temple of our God." There was much that was patriarchal in the life and religion of these "Latter-Day Saints"; there was much that was patriarchal in their morals.
With his fair, sagacious mind, Bishop Tuttle was quick to see both the good and the bad mingled in Mormonism. He noted their religious devotion, their missionary zeal, but he pronounced the system "a desperately, hideously, growingly strong institution." Accordingly he made Salt Lake City, let us not say his see, but his headquarters, and his home. In that Mormon stronghold, fairly and fearlessly he began his work and was soon recognized as "a consistent antagonist," an opponent of the Mormon faith, a friend of the Mormon people.
Up to this time the non-Mormon, or "Gentile," element in Utah had been a negligible quantity. It included perhaps a thousand--soldiers, stage-drivers, merchants, bankers, United States officials. Brigham Young was no longer Governor of the Territory, but he was still the autocrat of Mormonism. A single Con-gregationalist missionary, an army chaplain, had preached a few times in a hall in Salt Lake City and established a Sunday school; but for three years the only non-Mormon services held in Utah were those of the Episcopal Church.
Prom the first Bishop Tuttle saw that his greatest opportunity to uplift the community, both Mormon and Gentile, would be through parish schools. An excellent work was begun at once in Salt Lake City, and in 1870 Mahlon Gilbert was invited to take charge of a parish school in Ogden, thirty-five miles to the north. He was now a young man of twenty-two years, anxious to be of use in the world, and doubly glad to undertake work for the Church and for the Bishop whom he loved so well.
It was a time of transition in the land of the Saints. Only the year before, two great railways--the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific--had been completed, meeting at Ogden. Soon after, a line was built from Ogden to Salt Lake City. The seclusion, which had fostered the growth of Mormonism, was at an end, and its adherents were forced to adapt themselves to changed conditions.
The coming of the railways had made Ogden a town of importance, and Bishop Tuttle planned at once for a church and school. In July 1870, the Rev. James L. Gillogly came from the East, with his bride, and began a faithful and fruitful work, which continued eleven years, till his death. Of Mr. Gillogly, Bishop Tuttle writes, "The influence of his patient and sturdy devotion to duty still widely and deeply endures." A realistic picture of those early days is given in A Sketch of the Women of Utah, written in 1891 by Mrs. Gillogly, and privately published. Ogden was then a crude town of perhaps 4000 inhabitants, whose homes were chiefly of adobe or of logs. Life among the Mormons had both a pathetic and an amusing side.
Mr. Gillogly held his first church service in the waiting room of the railway, "with trains passing back and forth on both sides of us, and with talking, singing, and swearing, plainly to be heard." Under the same distracting conditions a Sunday school was founded. After a few weeks, with a strong sense of relief, they took possession of an old saloon building, of rough pine boards, which they fitted up, as best they could, for use as church and school.
In October, 1870, when Mahlon Gilbert arrived, he found Mr. and Mrs. Gillogly living cosily in a freight car which had kindly been placed at their disposal by the agent of the Union Pacific Eailroad. This unique rectory had been fitted with small windows, and was "divided into two apartments by a green calico curtain." The agent's family was living near by in a passenger car of great historic interest, for it was the one which President Abraham Lincoln had used on some of his journeys, and which later served as his funeral car.
The Gilloglys gave the young Mr. Gilbert a hearty welcome, and proved most helpful and inspiring friends. During his two years stay in Ogden he boarded with them most of the time, and always looked upon their home as his own. The School of the Good Shepherd, which had been founded a month before by Mr. Gillogly, was placed in his charge, and he proved to be an admirable schoolmaster. It was' a day school, such as the community needed, and was a success from the start. It began with thirteen pupils, chiefly from "Gentile" homes, and increased soon to fifty or sixty. For a time, the Mormon element made strong opposition; windows were broken, and children frightened, "but in time they found that we intended to do them no harm, and became very friendly."
In 1871, Mr. John D. Wolfe of New York, sent money to buy a large lot, on which was a deserted adobe tannery. This building was remodeled, and was used for church and school for several years. The same summer, two sisters from New York, the Misses Croch-eron, offered their services as teachers, without salary. By their labors and influence they accomplished much good, not only among the children, but also in their homes.
Mr. Gilbert's work as teacher is summed up by Bishop Tuttle in a sentence, "His earnest, genial, sympathetic ways gave the school the best possible sort of start." For twenty-five years, the School of the Good Shepherd did a noble and unselfish work, until the establishment of excellent free schools in Ogden made it no longer needed.
In the summer of 1871, Mahlon spent a part of his vacation at Bishop Tuttle's home in Salt Lake City. Later he accompanied the Bishop on his visitation in the Montana district, a long and perilous ride by stage. Over 500 miles they journeyed, night and day, changing horses every fifteen or sixteen miles, at times across the desert, and again among the canyons, or over the mountains. One incident has been preserved in Bishop Gilbert's own words:
We were traveling one night along the Port Neuf River, in Idaho. Of the four who were in the stage I was the only one awake. Suddenly the coach gave a lurch and over we went. We rolled over twice, and then stopped on the bank of the river. There we were, all mixed up together, luggage and all. In the beginning I had been on top, but now, after revolving inside the coach twice, I was underneath. Bishop Tuttle was on top of me, and seeing the horses struggling to get free, he tried to free himself also, and in so doing used my cheek for a springboard. This was the only injury I received from the whole adventure. I believe Bishop Tuttle still tells how once "he trod his clergy in the dust!" We finally extricated ourselves, walked twelve miles to a ranch, and from thence we continued our journey in a lumber box-wagon. ['The Rev. Anthon T. Gesner, in the Parish Visitor, of St. Peter's Church, St. Paul, June, 1896, p. 2. Bishop Tuttle's account of the Incident is given in his Reminiscences, pp. 94, 95.] Much of the wild country through which they journeyed was dangerous on account of Indians, and it was necessary always to be prepared for an attack. Some of the services held by the Bishop and his young assistant remind one of early days in New England, when, as the men came into church, they would stack their arms in a corner, to be ready for the Indians in any emergency.
This summer trip with Bishop Tuttle ended at Deer Lodge, Montana, a rough mining town, which strangely enough was to become Mahlon Gilbert's first parish.
During these two years his health had steadily improved. Bishop Tuttle writes, "In the Rocky Mountains, my own family physician, Dr. John B. Hamilton, pointed out to him the way of escape from the clutches of his malady, in open-air life, and much courting of the sunlight." It was a wise prescription, and the patient showed its good effect.