Criticism of Mormonism/Books/One Nation Under Gods/Use of sources/Whistling and Whittling Brigades

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Whistling and Whittling Brigades

A FairMormon Analysis of: One Nation Under Gods, a work by author: Richard Abanes

Author's Claims

One Nation under Gods, page 214 (hardback and paperback)

  • "Those persons fortunate enough to not be either murdered or severely beaten were usually "whittled" out of town by Brigham's 'Whistling and Whittling Brigade,'" which was a "violent gang of Mormons" who were "in good standing with the church."

Author's Sources

Endnote 49-51, page 552 (hardback); page 550 (paperback)

  • William B. Pace, William B. Pace Autobiography. Quoted in Dean Moody, "Nauvoo's Whistling and Whittling Brigade," BYU Studies (Summer 1975), vol. 15, 487. BYU Studies article PDF
  •  Citation error: should be "Thurmon Dean Moody."
  • Jehiel Savage statement in minutes of the high council of James Strang's followers at Voree, Wisconsin, April 6, 1846.
  • Hosea Stout, under April 27, 1845, in Brooks, vol. 1, 36.


The "whittling and whistling brigades" were a novel, non-violent means of community protection on the nineteenth-century American frontier in the absence of any civil government. In a situation where dispossession, extermination, and civil war were very real risks, the brigades seem to have worked surprisingly well, with few casualties. They were inadequate, of course, to deal with real armed aggression, and mob action forced the Saints to evacuate their lands and homes the following spring.

Similar issues are also ignored by the author elsewhere (see here.)

Detailed Analysis

ONUG fails to provide us with several of the necessary facts.[1]

In January 1845, the Nauvoo charter was repealed. This left Nauvoo without a city government, and without a legal militia or police force. This was done despite the warnings of members of the state legislature that law and order would break down.

Wandle Mace's diary reads:

. . .They tried every means they could devise to bring trouble upon Nauvoo, frequently a party would land from a steamboat and come into the city, commit their deviltry, and return to the boat and leave again, well knowing we had no law to protect us since the city charter was taken away.

This, then, was the quandary in which the LDS leaders found themselves:

Facing this uneasy state of affairs, the ecclesiastical leaders felt compelled to find some means of maintaining discipline in the city streets. Not wanting to resort to extra-legal activities and being aware that their priesthood authority did not apply to any but their own people, they sought an alternative solution. If some plan were not found, they would either have to live with the consequences or resort to their own mob rule--where power prevailed but trouble ensued. (Moody, p. 481)

The twofold goal of the groups was to (1) care for the poor, and (2) keep the streets of Nauvoo safe, especially at night. The bishops and deacons assigned to this type of activity evolved into what became known as the "whistling and whittling brigades."

As one author described the tactics decided upon:

The City of Joseph's elders ingeniously met the increasing flood of Gentile undesirables by organizing the boy population into a "Whistling and Whittling Brigade." Suspicious strangers immediately would be surrounded by groups of boys, armed with long-bladed jack-knives and sticks. Whichever way the suspect moved, the boys followed; whistling and whittling as they went. Not a question would they ask, not a question would they answer. They were too small to strike individually; too many to battle collectively. When they descended on a hapless stranger, they hugged his presence like vermin, until in exasperation he was glad to take hasty leave from the abode of the Saints.[2]


  1. Readers are strongly encouraged to read the BYU Studies article in its entirety. Except where noted, information comes from Thurmon Dean Moody, "Nauvoo's Whistling and Whittling Brigade," Brigham Young University Studies 15 no. 4 (Summer 1975), 480–490..
  2. Paul Dayton Bailey, For This My Glory (Los Angeles: Westernlore Press, 1943), 155; cited in Moody, 484.