Rise and fall of the Beaver Island Mormon kingdom

Beaver Island Historical Society Museum in the restored home of James Strang.

Beaver Island Historical Society Museum in the restored home of James Strang.

Bands of Native Americans, Irish famine fleer’s and even a Dominican convent have all called the secluded coasts of Beaver Island home.

Also finding solace on the island, at least temporarily, was a group of Mormons who declared a kingdom on the Northern Lake Michigan Island.

Father James Strang led his splinter sect of Mormons to the island in 1848.

They were fleeing religious persecution from the general public while at the same time distancing themselves from the the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the original Mormon Church.

Alvin Lafrienier is considered to be the islands Strang specialist. He’s lived there nearly his entire life and is a member of the Beaver Island Historical Society. He said

“Ya know the Mormons were being harassed from piller to post wherever they went. The sheriffs, wherever they went, were arresting them. So Strang needed a place where he wouldn’t be molested so the boat came in here to refuel and he thought ‘Hey, I’ll take this place over’ and he did. And then forced all the gentiles off and took over.”

For the next three years Strang spent his time and energy attempting to solidify his control of the island.

Strang proclaimed himself King in 1850. Adorned in a red flannel robe, a tin crown of glass stars on his head, and holy wooden scepter in hand, roughly 300 of Strang’s followers looked on as the church bishop swore fealty to their new king

Although he was the leader of the Mormons on Beaver Island, not all of his followers were convinced Strang was a man of faith.

“He was introduced to the Mormon faith and within six weeks he had promoted himself to one of the leaders of the church. So he had a lot of ambition. It’s not believed that he was religious, that he firmly believed in the Mormon faith, it was his vehicle to get some fame, some prestige and some authority.”

Strang’s endeavor for authority didn’t stop after he was crowned king.

He ran for and actually won a seat in the Michigan Legislature in 1853.

His inclusion was initially met with resistance, but eventually he was allowed to take his seat.

During Strang’s tenure he helped pass laws to establish county boundaries and he also worked toward equal rights for women.

He was elected to two terms and made his fair share of enemies in the state government along the way.

Lafrienier said those enemies would ultimately lead to his assassination.

“He had been tried twice for various crimes. He was a clever attorney and he defended himself and got out of it both times. He was a member of the Michigan legislature so he was an embarrassment to the government so they orchestrated his release.”

Strang’s colony had become a nuisance. Among other things, it’s members began raiding nearby fisherman’s stocks.

Lafrienier said the government had put up with the Beaver Island tyrant for long enough.

One June evening Strang went for a walk to the town docks with two of his disgruntled followers. The U.S.S Michigan had dropped anchor just off shore the night before.

Lafrienier said the ship’s crew watched in silence as Strang’s former followers shot him three times and ferociously beat him within an inch of his life.

“The Federal government was behind it. In fact the Navy supplied the two guns that he was shot with. The two men that shot him immediately boarded the Michigan and they took off and left the wounded Strang here. Then they left went to Mackinac island, the two men were released to the sheriff and both paid a 50 cent fine.”

Strang died three weeks later. No punitive action was ever taken against his assassins.

Lafrienier said, Following Strang’s death his so-called kingdom promptly came to a violent end. A mob of people with anti-Mormon views overtook the island, destroying what Strang had built overnight.

“Alot of em were wrong but half of those people were innocent women and kids. For them to be evicted from their homes, to lose everything, and then dispersed up and down the lake. Families even split up and divided hundreds of miles apart. It was an injustice.”

The invaders took the homes and livestock of the displaced Mormons, and went on as though things had always been this way. Lafrienier summed it up when he said,

“He had a brief reign, with alot of ambition. Had but a flashy reign that didn’t last that long.”

The foundations of the town Strang established over 150 years ago still serve the islanders to this day and the Legacy of King Strang is still putting Beaver Island On The Map.