1848 was a year of turmoil in Europe, with revolutions in France and Italy and Sicily and Germany and Poland and Romania and Moldavia and … and … and … the list seems nearly endless. The revolution in Hungary was led by Lajos Kossuth, a minor official and newspaper editor who had been imprisoned for his political views, and an orator who could sway thousands with his impassioned calls for Magyar independence, the liberation of peasants still bound by feudal serfdom, and civil rights for Hungaryâ€™s Jews. His 1848 revolution was a nearly bloodless event, and Kossuth became governor/president of Hungary a year later, when he led a brilliant campaign to drive an invading Austrian army out of Hungaryâ€™s borders.
Magyar independence was short-lived, however, as Russia came to the aid of its Austrian allies. Defeated by vastly superior numbers, Kossuth and his allies fled to the Ottoman Empire in the late summer of 1849. The Turks protected the Hungarian patriots, refusing Austriaâ€™s demands to extradite Kossuth. The exiled Kossuth became a darling of the western world as a symbol of libertyâ€™s struggle against tyranny. In 1851 an American naval vessel transported Kossuth and his band of Hungarian patriots to England and later to the U.S., where Kossuth, as brilliantly fluent in English as he was in Hungarian, thrilled the public with his ringing defenses of personal and national liberty.
Kossuth was accompanied to the U.S. by 57 family members and close associates. One of them was Capt. Janos Kalapsza, â€œa young man, of prepossessing manners and address,â€ who, according to Kossuth, â€œhas, during our late struggle for freedom, done valuable service to the country in fourteen battles. After having been compelled to leave the country, he was one of those, my noble hearted friends, who … have voluntarily offered themselves to share my fate in misfortune, to watch for my personal security, and to alleviate the sorrows of my … exile with self-sacrificing attachment.â€
Moved by gallantry and lofty oratory, a number of Americans invested in a riding school in Boston operated by Kalapsza, who, with two assistants, “men of refined, courteous and gentlemanly manners,” â€œby their great experience in the accurate and severe discipline of the Hungarian Cavalry service,â€ taught men, women, and children the equestrian arts, and engaged in the training of fine horses.
When Kossuth returned to Europe in 1852 to continue his struggle for Hungarian independence, Kalapsza remained behind in Boston. He continued to operate his riding school for a few years, then Kalapsza â€œwent out to the Mormons in Utah and was never heard from againâ€ (â€œAzt mondtÃ¡k, hogy itt meggazdagodott s 1856-ban Ã¡tadva Tholdnak lovardÃ¡jÃ¡t, mint gazdag ember, utah mormonai kÃ¶zÃ¶tt telepedett megâ€ according to one source; 1856-ban utahban telepedett le, Ã¡ttÃ©rt a mormon hitre s meggazdagodottâ€ according to another. No, I donâ€™t read Hungarian — beyond â€œutahâ€ and â€œmormonâ€ — but doesnâ€™t it look cool?).
Kalapsza â€œwent outâ€ to the Mormons in Utah, yes — but not as a convert, as was long assumed by those who study the 1848 revolutionaries. Rather, on 20 June 1857, the brown haired, gray eyed, 30-year-old, 5’8″ veteran of 14 battles enlisted for a five-year term in the United States Army, in the heavy ordnance company headed by Jesse L. Reno. He was shipped to Fort Leavenworth, marched across the plains, and spent the winter of 1857-58 in the snowbound camp at Fort Bridger, eating mule meat without salt and probably no more impressed than Charles Henry Wilcken had been with the level of soldierly professionalism of the army recruits.
The army marched through Salt Lake City and established Camp Floyd in the summer of 1858, some 40 miles south of the Mormon capital. There John Rosza, another Hungarian with the Utah Expedition, met and married Patience Loader, a survivor of the Martin handcart company of 1856. The Roszas were married by a Mormon bishop, and when Roszaâ€™s officers refused to recognize the marriage, they were married again before a justice of the peace. Standing next to Rosza to witness the civil ceremony and ensure that it would be honored by the government was Janos Kalapsza. To celebrate the wedding, Kalapsza presented the young couple with a buffalo robe, a â€œlovely large camp chairâ€ covered with red cloth, and â€œa fine young durham cow.â€
Once in Utah, settled at Camp Floyd with open hostilities at an end, the army had little need for a heavy ordnance battery. On 12 January 1859, in a cost-cutting measure, Kalapsza and most of the other ordnance specialists were discharged. Some returned east, while others went on to California. Kalapsza â€“ educated, well-mannered, professional soldier that he was â€“ found work of some kind at the army post and remained at Camp Floyd for a time. He was still at Camp Floyd in October 1860, when he made a visit to Salt Lake City.
Kalapsza called at the LDS offices and was introduced to Brigham Young by Bishop David Evans of Lehi. After conversing â€œfor a long timeâ€ with the Hungarian officer, Brigham Young told Kalapsza that he had â€œonly one favor to ask from him, that when he left Utah he would tell the truth about this people.â€
And there the trail goes cold. Although I have filled in a few details of Kalapszaâ€™s â€œgoing out to the Mormons in Utah,â€ I too have to admit that â€œhe was never heard from again.â€ I hope to pick up the trail again at some point. For now, I present the story of Janos Kalapsza as another illustration of how Mormon history is so often and so intimately tied to events that on first blush seem to have nothing to do with us.
(Thanks to Helena Toth of Harvard who first alerted me to Kalapszaâ€™s existence, and to Curt Allen of Centerville, Utah, who shared Kalapszaâ€™s enlistment record from the files of his yearsâ€™-long study of the soldiers who accompanied Albert Sidney Johnston to Utah.)