A Study in Scarlet

A Study in Scarlet Summary and Analysis of Part II, Chapter III: John Ferrier Talks with the Prophet


Three weeks later, John Ferrier found himself thinking about his daughter's betrothal; he was sad to see her get married and leave him, but happy for her at the same time. He reflected upon his personal, secret vow to never allow Lucy to marry a Mormon. He could never voice that vow, however, as the Mormons were very strict on the subject.

In fact, the "persecuted had now turned persecutors on their own account and persecutors of the most terrible description." The organization of the Latter Day Saints was secretive, invisible, and terrifying; fathers vanished and their families were left wondering when they would return, rumors of murdered immigrants and women brought in for the Elders' harems abounded, and a band dubbed the Avenging Angels routed out perceived dissenters. No one "knew who belonged to that ruthless society," and every man feared his neighbor and refrained from any complaint of any sort.

One morning Ferrier glimpsed Brigham Young himself walking up Ferrier's pathway. Young came in and immediately informed Ferrier that the latter had violated his promise to embrace the true faith because he never took any wives. Ferrier protested that this was not a problem and that he had his daughter to care for him. Young responded that this daughter was the reason why he was there, for word had come to him that she planned on marrying a Gentile. This was considered a sin in the Mormon holy creed; she should marry one the Elders' many sons, who were all young and rich.

Ferrier quietly answered that she was too young to wed, but Young informed him they had a month to choose either the son of Stangerson or Drebber for Lucy to wed. With threatening words and gestures, Young departed the Ferrier home. Ferrier sat brooding over the matter.

He was interrupted from his ruminations by Lucy's hand on his shoulder; she had been listening to the conversation. Ferrier consoled her that they would be fine. He wanted her to marry Jefferson Hope –"he's a likely lad, and he's a Christian, which is more than these folks are, in spite o' all their praying and preaching."

Ferrier told Lucy of a party starting for Nevada the next day which could take an urgent message to Hope and ask him to return to help. Lucy voiced her concerns that opposing the Prophet was perhaps a death sentence, but Ferrier reminded her they had done nothing wrong yet and that a month still lay before them.

They would raise as much money as possible and leave Salt Lake City, as Ferrier was yearning to be free once more. Jefferson Hope would no doubt be able to help them escape. That night Ferrier took care to lock the doors more diligently and loaded up his shotgun.


In this short chapter the dangers of the Mormons, particularly Brigham Young, are brought to the fore. Ferrier is threatened by Young –his daughter must marry one of the sons of Elder Stangerson or Elder Drebber and leave the Gentile Jefferson Hope behind. Their deadline is in a mere month. Lucy overhears the conversation, and is relieved when her father explains that he has no intention of letting her marry one of the Mormons. They plot to raise money and leave Salt Lake City, hopefully with the aid of Hope.

Doyle's depiction of the persecuted-turned-persecutors has garnered a lot of critical backlash during the book's time as well as the modern era. However, there are several historical precedents Doyle would have known about when penning his villains. In 1857-58 the Mormons were experiencing a millenarian state of anxiety; they had provoked the wrath of the federal government when they publicly announced their doctrine of polygamy, and Brigham Young publicly announced that the recently-deceased President Taylor was in hell and he was glad of it.

President James Buchanan sent federal troops to Utah Territory and ousted Young. In turn, Young barred federal troops from Utah, asked Mormon troops to defend their territory, and invoked martial law. Mormons burned federal supply trains and took some of the federal troops' oxen. The Mormons believed that this was the time of Jesus Christ's reign on earth and that they were therefore justified in their actions. It is possible that methods were taken by Young and others to keep order in this time of chaos; one man, Jedediah Morgan Grant, called for Joseph Smith's "blood atonement," by which sinners could be absolved of their sins by the shedding of their blood.

As for the murdered immigrants and captured women, there are some valid sources used by Doyle. He read elder John Doyle Lee's confession before he was executed regarding his participation in the Mountain Meadows Massacre of 1857 where hundreds of immigrants were killed. Doyle also owned Fanny Stenhouse's An Englishwoman in Utah: the Story of a Life's Experience in Mormonism (1880). There is less valid evidence for the allusion to women being captured, raped, and forced into polygamy, but some children from the Massacre escaped and could have provided evidence for this. The comment most likely was to insinuate the ultimate fate of Lucy Ferrier.

The Danite band, or the Avenging Angels, was also real. They organized themselves in 1838 to enact vengeance, but were expelled by Smith and forbidden. They were somewhat revived in 1856-58 during the Kansas-Nebraska conflict. The idea of this marauding, bloodthirsty and secretive band was very popular around the turn of the century, popping up in plays and novels.

Clearly, Doyle took some liberties with his depiction of the Mormons in A Study in Scarlet, but it was not entirely false. Once again Doyle reveals himself to be quite influenced by political events and cultural creations of his time.