Did you know that the Mormon immigrants who settled in the Great Salt Lake area of
frontier Utah had their own mint and struck coins in four different denominations of $2.50, $5, $10, and $20? The mint was
in operation from 1849 to 1860, using raw gold that was produced from the Nevada and California gold fields. The overall operation
of the mint was supervised by Brigham Young.
Shortly after the mint began operation, two men broke into it and stole a few stacks
of newly minted $10 gold pieces. Due to the scarcity and numismatic value of these coins, they are now valued at more than
$75,000 each. As far as the records show, the coins have never been recovered.
The Mormon migration westward from Illinois to the valley of the Great Salt Lake was
carried out against discouragement, disease, hardships, bloodshed, danger and death. Yet it opened the road over which thousands
of immigrants passed until the completion of the transcontinental railroad at Promontory, Utah, on May 10, 1869. A golden
spike was driven into the railroad tie, joining the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railways.
During the years following 1847, thousands of immigrants followed the Mormon Trail,
blazed by these early pioneers. Some of the wagons made it through easily, driving their cattle and horses before them. Most
of them were escorted safely under the watchful eye of missionaries and experienced frontiersmen. Some made the journey on
foot, pushing makeshift handcarts that held all of their possessions, and some suffered great hardships and tragedy.
It is the story of a patriarchal society, and old testament faith, in conflict with
and in flight from its enemies. It is also a phenomenal success story, for by stubbornness, fortitude and cooperation, the
Mormons built a flourishing society centered in the fertile valley of the Great Salt Lake.
After the murder of Joseph Smith at Carthage, Ill., in 1844, Brigham Young assumed
the leadership of the Mormon Church. On April 17, 1847, the Mormons started their long journey westward, arriving in the valley
of the Great Salt Lake on July 24, 1847. They started to build a new community.
The U.S. Government had not yet established mints in Denver or San Francisco at that
time, and tons of raw gold were being shipped to the Philadelphia mint for processing into gold coins. This procedure was
very time-consuming and it was becoming increasingly impractical to buy products and services with raw gold dust and nuggets.
To promote a smoother flow of commerce, private mints began to appear on the scene in California and in Utah.
The Great Salt Lake Valley area was heavily traveled by people en route to the Nevada
and California gold mines. Wagon trains in great numbers passed through Salt Lake City where the miners and prospectors bought
food and supplies and filled their water barrels for the long, dry trip across the burning desert to the west.
The Baldwin brothers, Reg and Dave, were traveling with one such caravan when it stopped
overnight in Salt Lake City to rest and take on supplies. They listened with great interest as the Mormons boasted about their
new mint. Regular tours of the mint were conducted at certain hours and the tourists were invited to see the entire operation,
which was housed in a small adobe building. The Baldwin brothers anxiously took the tour.
The Mormons were a trusting people and had not seen any reason to post a guard at
the mint during non-business hours at night or on the weekends. Reg and Dave Baldwin had a few encounters with the law back
in St. Louis, and had been ordered to get out of town or go to jail, so they took the sheriffs advice and joined the next
wagon train headed west.
The night before their wagon train was scheduled to depart from Salt Lake City, the
Baldwin brothers broke into the unguarded mint facility. In the flickering candle light they could see many stacks of $10
gold pieces sitting on a wooden work bench in the center of the room. Starting at one end of the bench, they each scooped
up several rows of coins and placed them in a canvas sack. They intentionally took only part of the stacks, hoping that the
coins wouldnt be missed until long after they had left town.
The workers at the mint didnt discover the theft until a few days later when they
were conducting an inventory of the coins. They were shocked to learn that more than 200 of the $10 gold pieces were missing.
Several employees of the mint recalled the unusual interest that the Baldwin brothers had shown in the shiny new gold coins
at the time they had toured the facility. A small posse of concerned citizens was organized to go after them. They knew that
a wagon train could travel only about 15 to 20 miles per day, so the posse was sure that they could catch up with them on
their fast horses.
Two days later when they caught up with the wagon train, they were informed that the
Baldwin brothers had separated from the group and headed south on their own into the arid Sevier Desert. The posse backtracked
but was unable to find any sign of the Baldwins wagon in the windswept sand. Disappointed, they reluctantly gave up the chase
and returned to Salt Lake City. Additional coins were minted to replace those that were stolen and the mint returned to business
The Baldwin brothers were never seen or heard from again, nor did any of the $10 gold
coins ever show up. The direction they had gone in would take them through the middle of an arid, salt-like desert where the
highest natural air temperatures in the world have been recorded and rainfall and natural water are extremely scarce.
Traveling through a region such as this, a person would need at least a gallon of
water per day to survive. They would also need water for the animals that were pulling their wagon. It is strongly believed,
and with good reason, that the Baldwin brothers died in this arid, parched wasteland. Somewhere in the Utah desert south of
the Great Salt Lake, lies the remains of a wagon, two human skeletons and the skeletons of their animals, and more than 200
extremely valuable Mormon Mint $10 gold pieces.
The Guidebook of United States Coins by R.S. Yeoman lists the value of one of these
coins at $75,000 in fine condition. Since the coins taken by the Baldwin brothers were uncirculated, they would be worth even
more to collectors.
The beehive shown on the reverse of these coins was a favorite Mormon symbol. The
clasped hands on the obverse was to signify strength and unity. The Mormons also frequently used the inscription Holiness
to the Lord.