Brigham Young Biography: Facts of Faith
Brigham Young remained vigorous until his death in August 1877. Just before his death, he dedicated the St. George Temple and launched the full scope of LDS temple ordinances there, something he had anticipated since Nauvoo. He likewise overhauled Church organization at every level, formalizing for the first time practices that would characterize the Church for nearly a century.
Brigham was a well-built, stout (in later years, portly) man of five feet ten inches--somewhat taller than average for his day. His light brown hair, often described as "sandy," had very little gray. Visitors noticed his penetrating blue-gray eyes lined by thin eyebrows. Though he later wore a full beard, Brigham was clean-shaven until the 1850s, when he first sported chin whiskers. His mouth and chin were firm, bespeaking, visitors thought, his iron will. He was generally composed and quiet in manner, but he could thunder at the pulpit. Sometimes called the "Lion of the Lord," he could also roar when aroused.
Brigham Young's manner was pleasant and courteous. His dress, generally neat and plain, was often homespun. He combined vibrant energy and self-certainty with deference to the feelings of others and a complete lack of pretension. By the time of his death, Brigham Young had married twenty-seven women, sixteen of whom bore him fifty-six children. He died on August 29, 1877, apparently of peritonitis, the result of a ruptured appendix.
Brigham's most obvious achievements were the product of his lifelong talent for practical decision making. He instituted patterns of Church government that persist to this day. In leading the Saints across Iowa, he issued detailed instructions that were followed by the hundreds of companies that crossed the plains to the Salt Lake Valley in succeeding years. In the Great Basin he directed the organization of several hundred LDS settlements; set up several hundred cooperative retail, wholesale, and manufacturing enterprises; and initiated the construction of meetinghouses, tabernacles, and temples. While doing all this, he carried on a running battle with the United States government to preserve the unique LDS way of life.
But for Brigham Young these were means, not ends. His overriding concern was to build on the foundation begun by Joseph Smith to establish a commonwealth in the desert where his people could live the gospel of Jesus Christ in peace, thereby improving their prospects in this life and in the next. He loved the Great Basin because its harshness and isolation made it an ideal place to "make Saints."
Original text corrected and edited by Dr. Larry C. Porter, Department of Church History and Doctrine, and Janet Rex, University Communications, 4/2001.