Despite humble beginnings, Brigham Young died at age 76, the most powerful man in the American West. Thousands revered him as a prophet of God. He was founder of the Mormon kingdom of Deseret (now Utah), a millionaire, the husband of 20 conjugal wives and 30 or more spiritually sealed spouses, and father of 57 children.
At the time, he was the most beloved and despised man in the United States. By any standard, his was a remarkable life.
When his wife Miriam was suffering from tuberculosis, her family was being swept up in an American religious revolution. Not long after Joseph Smith Jr. founded the Church of Christ in upstate New York, Young's sister gave him a copy of the Book of Mormon and he was baptized early in 1832.
Following the death of his wife, Young moved to Kirtland, Ohio, and met the charismatic Smith. After remarriage to Mary Ann Angell and a mission to Canada, Young served in Zion's Camp, a private militia that marched to Missouri to support Mormons in the troubled border state.
The effort failed, but Young called it "the starting point of my knowing how to lead Israel." His service led to his appointment as one of the original apostles of the LDS Church in 1835.
Others abandoned Joseph Smith in a financial scandal, but Young stood firm. He followed the prophet west and helped direct the evacuation of Missouri when Smith was imprisoned and the Saints were expelled in 1839.
Young had barely settled his family at Nauvoo, Ill., when he was sent to found the British Mission. In an amazing year, the missionaries reprinted the Book of Mormon and baptized some 8,000 converts.
While working for Smith's presidential campaign in Boston, Young heard of the 38-year-old prophet's murder at Carthage Jail. The murder would traumatize and inspire Smith's followers, especially Young.
The senior apostle returned to Nauvoo to win a hard-fought battle to lead the Latter-day Saints.
Upon his return, Young directed missionary efforts and supervised construction of the Nauvoo Temple. Early in 1842, Smith revealed a "new and everlasting covenant, including the eternity of the marriage covenant, as also the plurality of wives." Upon hearing of the secret doctrine, Young recalled he "desired the grave, and I could hardly get over it for a long time."