Colonel Thomas Kane, a special representative of James Polk, president of the United States, visited the Mormon pioneers in 1846 while they camped in Iowa, preparing to cross the Missouri River. He had read newspaper articles about the Saints, describing how they had frequently been persecuted and driven from their homes. As he walked through the woods near the outskirts of the camp, he came upon a lone pioneer who was secretly praying. Thomas stood quietly listening to the man humbly express thanks for the restored gospel and petition for the Saints’ protection during their travels.
Thomas was very moved by this experience, and he became a lifelong friend of the Mormons, although he never joined the Church.
Thomas Kane lived in Pennsylvania with his wife, Elizabeth, and four children. Because he was known and trusted by many government officials, he was able to help find satisfactory solutions to misunderstandings between the government and the Mormons several times.
At a time when the Saints badly needed money for their trek to the Salt Lake Valley, Thomas met with President Polk and arranged for the government to help the Saints by enlisting five hundred Mormon men in the U.S. Army. These men formed a unit that became known as the Mormon Battalion. The money paid to these men for their service was used to help buy wagons and supplies for the pioneers.
Thomas became a very good friend of Brigham Young. He frequently visited the homes of other Saints and was impressed that they were honest and sincere in their testimonies of the gospel. He was amazed at the sacrifices many of them made and at the love that existed in the camps in spite of the hunger and hardships the pioneers suffered.
In the eastern states, Thomas spoke to many politicians, newspaper editors, and other groups about the Mormons and praised their way of life. After the Saints had arrived in the Salt Lake Valley, Thomas helped them obtain permission to form a territorial government. They thanked him with a special wolfskin sleigh robe and some gold that the Mormon Battalion had brought back from California.
At one time Thomas worked with both President Brigham Young and United States President James Buchanan to clear up a misunderstanding that could have resulted in a war between the Saints and the government. Soldiers had been sent to Utah. With Thomas Kane’s help, however, a solution was found before there was any bloodshed. Wilford Woodruff later told him: “You were an instrument in the hands of God, and you were inspired by him to turn away … the edge of the sword.”
Thomas Kane returned to live in Pennsylvania, but he visited his Latter-day Saint friends often and remained interested in their welfare. After he died in 1883, his wife wrote a letter to the Saints telling them that Thomas asked her in his last hours before death to send “The sweetest message you can make up to my Mormon friends—to all, my dear Mormon friends.”