Originally created 02/08/02

Rambin' Rhodes: Augustan once governed Utah



Now that the eyes of the world are on Utah for the Winter Olympics, it's a good time to mention some famous folks associated with that state, one of whom was from Augusta.

I know you can name country singer Marie Osmond and her pop-singing brother Donny, and, of course, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

You probably know about Brigham Young, the Mormon leader who was from Whitingham, Vt.

Other Utah celebrities, culled from the Web site 50states.com, include early-1900s stage actress Maude Adams, outlaw Butch Cassidy, TV actor Anthony Geary, movie actor John Gilbert, TV actor-football player-FTD spokesman Merlin Olsen, comedian Roseanne Barr, movie actor James Woods and actress Loretta Young.

The site makes no mention of Alfred Cumming, a former Augusta mayor who became governor of Utah in one of its most trying times.

Mr. Cumming was raised on a plantation near Augusta and married Elizabeth Randall, daughter of a prominent Boston physician. She also was the great-granddaughter of Revolutionary War patriot Samuel Adams. They were married in Concord, Mass., and had a happy marriage until her death in 1867.

He was mayor of Augusta in 1839, when the town was hit by a yellow fever epidemic that claimed many lives.

According to a story found in The Augusta Chronicle's augustaarchives.com Web site, Mr. Cumming "had to assume command of the panic-stricken place and perform the duties of nurse, night-watchman and sexton, as well as the proper functions of mayor."

Mr. Cumming caught the fever but recovered. The people of Augusta were so grateful for his leadership during the crisis that they presented him with "a costly service of plate."

Mr. Cumming joined the Army just before the Civil War. He was superintendent of the Upper Missouri Indian territory and was appointed governor of Utah by President Buchanan in May 1857.

Mr. Buchanan and members of Congress believed the Mormons were rebelling against the federal government, so they decided to replace the governor, Brigham Young, with Mr. Cumming. Mr. Cumming was dispatched to Salt Lake City with 2,500 soldiers.

The Utah Historical Society noted that Young and his followers saw the government and military takeover as religious persecution. The result was the Utah War, which lasted a year.

At the end of his four-year term as governor, Mr. Cumming moved to Washington, D.C., and eventually back to Augusta, where he died on Oct. 9, 1873, at age 71. He was buried in Summerville Cemetery.

The Springfield (Mass.) Republican printed a lengthy tribute, reprinted in The Augusta Chronicle, that said, "He was the soul of courtesy and honor in the romance of his youth, in the cares of middle life and in the burdensome circumstances of his declining years."

So, the next few days as you watch the Olympics in Utah, just remember it was an Augustan now buried on The Hill who once was governor of that far-off state.

Don Rhodes has written about country music for 31 years. He can be reached at (706) 823-3214 or at ramblin@morris.com.