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Young-Kane letters could be yours

Artifacts dealer wants opening bid of $20,000

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Two identical letters written by Brigham Young 149 years ago urging an unlikely ally, an agnostic Easterner, to represent the Utah territory in Congress could be yours — if the price is right.

The letters to Col. Thomas L. Kane are being auctioned on the Internet auction site eBay. Bidding opened Friday. Michael Vinson, a rare artifacts dealer from Afton, Wyo., is offering the letters with an opening bid of $20,000.

He purchased the first seven-page letter for $14,000 at an auction at the Kane home in Pennsylvania last September. Vinson said after that auction, Kane descendants from New York contacted him about the second letter, which had identical wording but was a page shorter. He bought that for $9,500.

"It's unusual I found both of them," he said. "I've never seen anything like it."

President Young the second president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, wrote the letters Oct. 30, 1854, to Kane, widely known in church circles as a friend to Mormons.

Advising Kane to keep the contents of the letter confidential, Young urged him to move from his Pennsylvania home so he could be elected as the Utah territorial delegate to Congress.

He told Kane not to worry about the outcome of the election since "you know this people well enough to be certain that they will vote as they may be counseled, hence you will have no disbelief as to the result of the election," according to wording provided by Vinson.

Worried that the letter would not reach Kane, Young sent it twice — if not three times.

The letters don't include a response from Kane, but he turned down Young's offer, said David Whittaker, curator of Western and Mormon Manuscripts for the Harold B. Lee Library at Brigham Young University.

Housed within the library's L. Tom Perry Special Collections unit is a "fairly comprehensive" Thomas Kane collection, including manuscripts, diaries, and Civil War papers. A recent addition is a letter from Young to Kane describing the Mountain Meadows Massacre in southern Utah, which Whittaker called one of the blackest periods of LDS history.

After reading Mormon pleas for help following their ouster from Nauvoo, Ill., Kane befriended Mormons in the East in 1846. He then worked his way West from Philadelphia, eventually earning the trust and respect of church members.

After falling gravely ill, Kane received a special blessing and was nursed back to health by Mormons, further strengthening the bond.

Later, Kane enlisted 500 Mormon men to serve in the U.S. Army during the Mexican War and often helped defuse tensions between Mormons and the U.S. government.

Kane is well represented in Utah. Kane County is named after him, and his statue stands in the Capitol rotunda.

"Kane has always been liked and revered by the Latter-day Saints," Whittaker said. "He always stuck his neck out for them."

It was why Young thought Kane would be a great choice to represent Utah in the nation's capital.

That's even though Kane was "kind of an agnostic," Whittaker said.

Instead of being public with his religion, like his Presbyterian wife, Kane subscribed to the idea that one proves one's Christianity by serving people.

"He bowed to his wife's public faith, but privately he remained aloof from that," Whittaker said. "That's probably why he got along with the Mormons."

Kane was made a general after the Civil War. He was wounded at Gettysburg. He remained friends with President Young until the church president's death in 1877 and continued the special relationships with other LDS leaders. Kane died in 1883.