With all the recent attention to Mitt Romneyâ€™s polygamous ancestors, Iâ€™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.
Mittâ€™s father, we all know, was George W. Romney â€“ the W. stands for â€œWilcken,â€ which name comes from Mittâ€™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 Wilckenâ€™s autobiography:
â€œI arrived in the United States in the Spring of 1857 â€“ 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.
â€œFrom 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.
â€œHere 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.
â€œTwo 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 â€œMormons.â€
â€œAbout 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. …
â€œAbout this time I had had all I wanted of life in the â€œFlower of the American Army.â€ 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 â€œFrench leave,â€ 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.
â€œAfter looking over the maps, of the country, which I found in the Captainâ€™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 â€“ 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. …â€
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, â€œCharles Henry Wilcken: An Undervalued Saint,â€ Utah Historical Quarterly, vol. 55, no. 4 (Fall 1987), 308-321, which has been conveniently posted here.