120 years ago today - Apr 17, 1900

Brigham Young Academy president Benjamin Cluff Jr. along with a company of two teachers and about twenty students leave Provo expecting to be gone for two years. Their destination is South America where they hope to locate rivers, cities, and places that would "throw light on the divine claims of the Book of Mormon." When the expedition reaches Spanish Fork they are received with a Brass Band and a Banquet in their honor. They are received with so many banquets that they don't cook their own food until eleven days into the journey. At the Mexican Border Cluff negotiates with border officials to allow passage through Mexico while the rest of the group boards with church members in Thatcher, Arizona. Cluff lingers in Mexico hoping to marry a polygamous third wife, Florence Reynolds, daughter of George Reynolds, and one of his former students. Florence had been using his last name for the previous year. While Cluff is in Colonia Diaz, he orders other expedition members to begin proselyting in Thatcher. The students discover why Cluff had prolonged his stay and became disheartened and angry. His assistant, Professor Walter Wolfe, reacts to the news of Cluff's delay by escaping to Nogales for an "extended three-day alcoholic spree." Wolfe (who had been told in a dream that he would find gold plates on the expedition and be able to translate them) later sells his mule to buy liquor. The students determine not to do any more missionary work and "took every opportunity to visit with the young ladies and to attend the weekly dances" in Thatcher. Apostle Heber J. Grant learns of the expedition's behavior while traveling in Arizona. He informs President Lorenzo Snow who sends Second Councilor Joseph F. Smith. Smith authorizes Cluff's plural marriage but instructs the group to either disband or proceed on their own as a "purely scientific" group without church endorsement. Most return to Provo but Cluff and five others press on to Columbia. A week after arriving, all but one student, Chester Van Buren, return to Utah. Van Buren remains in Colombia long enough to conduct scientific investigations. When he finally returns to Provo, his wildlife specimens become a prized collection. Cluff is censured by the Board of Trustees for "unwarranted use of authority" and is kept as Brigham Young Academy's president for only one more year. One of his last official acts is to change the name to "Brigham Young University."

[On This Day in Mormon History, http://onthisdayinmormonhistory.blogspot.com]

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