Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer, 2003, Excerpts
To the world beyond the confines of their tribe, Brigham Young and his counselors vigorously denied that Mormons engaged in polygamy. Their decision to keep polygamy in the closet was made necessary by the rapidly expanding boundaries of the American empire. The Mormon homeland was annexed to the United States following the conclusion of the war with Mexico, as part of the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Utah territory was formally established on September 9, 1850, with Brigham appointed governor.
On February 4, 1851, the new governor finally felt secure enough about the Saints’ prospects to come clean about the number of wives he had. “I have many,” he boasted during an address to the territorial legislature, “and I’m not ashamed to have it known.” It was his public admission that Mormons practiced polygamy. Brigham Young took at lease twenty women as wives, perhaps as many as fifty-seven. He sired an estimated fifty-seven children, and his direct descendants number in the thousands. The most famous of them is Steve Young, Brigham’s great-great-great-grandson, a star quarterback. Brigham argued that plural marriage was actually an antidote to immortality, because men with a multitude of wives wouldn’t be tempted to engage in adulterous liaisons or visit prostitutes.
By 1855, polygamy was not only being practiced openly, it was being urged on the faithful with an unrelentingly hard sell that included dire warnings to the recalcitrant. “In any of you will deny the plurality of wives, and continue to do so,” Brigham threatened, “I promise that you will be damned.” This adamant promotion of polygamy grew out of a white-hot burst of religious fanaticism known as the Mormon reformation, which peaked in the years 1856 and 1857. Mormon men started taking on wives at a frantic rate. Apostle Wilford Woodruff observed in 1856, “All are trying to get wives, until there is hardly a girl fourteen years old in Utah, but what is married, or is just going to be.”