Like many 19th-century characters, physician, lawyer, dentist, author, lecturer, railroader, reporter, military recruiter, all-around businessman and Utah head of state, Frank Fuller was multi-talented.
While slugging a leather punching bag on his 84th birthday in 1911, Fuller told a New York Times reporter he had been governor of Utah during the Civil War. This was stretching the truth, but as territorial secretary, Fuller was acting governor for longer than some of Utah's actual chief executives served as governor.
Fuller's political career began in 1860 when he gave a Fourth of July oration and asked Robert Lincoln to read the Declaration of Independence. Presidential candidate Abraham Lincoln advised his son "to take every occasion to read that immortal document, and the bigger the crowd the louder you must holler."
At the start of the Civil War, Fuller organized the Second New Hampshire volunteers. When he visited the president in Washington, the subject of Utah Territory came up.
"Governor Cumming was missing from Utah. No one knew when or how," Fuller recalled.
Lincoln had also learned that Territorial Secretary Francis Wooton was "constantly intoxicated." (Wooton did nothing of importance, Mormon Apostle George A. Smith complained, but "when he left, bad liquor fell in price.")
Lincoln sent Fuller to Utah to replace the tipsy Wooton. "If Gov. Cumming does not return," Lincoln said, "I will appoint you Governor." (Frustrated with his lack of actual authority, Cumming had fled East, never to return.)
Fuller asked Lincoln if he had a message for Brigham Young. "No. You can't take any message from me," said the president, "but I will say to you that if Brigham will let me alone I'll let him alone."
In Utah, Fuller quickly appreciated the lay of the political landscape. The previous governor said there was nothing to do He might be governor of the territory, "but Brigham Young is Governor of the people."
Fuller soon discovered he was in mining country.
"A woman killed a duck and found a nugget in its gizzard," he recalled. "I bought the gold and sent it to President Lincoln. It was evident there was gold and silver in abundance in the territory."
Mormons told him they could find gold but had been taught it would evaporate if they tried to carry it home. Brigham Young begged Fuller to keep the news secret for it "would be the means of introducing liquor and vice into the country."
Unlike most federal officials, Fuller did not fight LDS political power, and Mormons thought he "conducted himself in a gentlemanly manner." When Fuller attended Social Hall parties, he was "sober & courteous." He also supported the LDS Church's efforts to secure statehood for Deseret, the name Mormons preferred over Utah, the one Congress had assigned.
Fuller was not popular with his peers. Gen. Patrick Edward Connor denounced him as one of "the tools and creatures of Brigham Young." Fuller was sacked after he applied for leave to visit his dying father and then headed west to the Nevada mines.
The high point of Fuller's service was completion of the Pacific Telegraph Company line at Salt Lake in October 1861. Fuller sent the first transcontinental telegram to President Lincoln. He stoutly denied any "imputations of disloyalty" in Utah and praised "the completion of an enterprise which spans a continent, unites two oceans, and connects with nerve iron the remote extremities of the body politic."
"I read your message to the Cabinet," the President said later. "We were glad to get an encouraging word from any source." In the darkest days of the Civil War, "things looked dreadfully dark just then, and every little helped."
The author is a historian and writer.