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
Original text corrected and edited by Dr. Larry C. Porter, Department of
Church History and Doctrine, and Janet Rex, University Communications, 4/2001.