Settling in and about the obscure village of Commerce, the "Mormon" refugees soon demonstrated anew the marvelous recuperative power with which they were endowed, and a city seemed to spring from the earth. Nauvoo--the City Beautiful--was the name given to this new abiding place. It was situated but a few miles from Quincy, in a bend of the majestic river, giving the town three water fronts. It seemed to nestle there as if the Father of Waters was encircling it with his mighty arm. Soon a glorious temple crowned the hill up which the city had run in its rapid growth. Their settlements extended into Iowa, then a territory. The governors of both Iowa and Ohio testified to the worthiness of the Latter-day Saints as citizens, and pledged them the protection of the commonwealth. The city of Nauvoo was chartered by the state of Illinois, and the rights of local self-government were assured to its citizens.
A military organization, the "Nauvoo Legion," was authorized, and the establishment of a university was provided for; both these organizations were successfully effected. It was here that a memorial was prepared and sent to the national government, reciting the outrages of Missouri, and asking reparation. Joseph Smith himself, the head of the delegation, had a personal interview with President Van Buren, in which the grievances of the Latter-day Saints were presented. Van Buren replied in words that will not be forgotten, "Your cause is just, but I can do nothing for you."
The peaceful conditions at first characteristic of their Illinois settlement were not to continue. The element of political influence asserted itself and the "Mormons" bade fair to soon hold the balance of power in local affairs. The characteristic unity, so marked in connection with every phase of the people's existence, promised too much; immigration into Hancock county was continuous, and the growing power of the Latter-day Saints was viewed with apprehension. With this as the true motive, many pretexts for annoyance were found; and arrests, trials, and acquittals were common experiences of the Church officers.
A charge, which promised to prove as devoid of foundation as had the excuses for the fifty arrests preceding it, led Joseph Smith, president of the Church, and Hyrum Smith, the patriarch, to again surrender themselves to the officers of the law. They were taken to Carthage, Joseph having declared to friends his belief that he was going to the slaughter. Governor Ford gave to the prisoners his personal guarantee for their safety; but mob violence was supreme, more mighty than the power of the state militia placed there to guard the prison; and these men were shot to death, even while under the governor's plighted pledge of protection. Hyrum fell first; and Joseph, appearing at one of the windows in the second story, received the leaden missiles of the besieging mob, which was led by a recreant though professed minister of the gospel. But the brutish passion of the mob was not yet sated; propping the body against a well-curb in the jail-yard, the murderers poured a volley of bullets into the corpse, and fled. Thus was the unholy vow of the mob fulfilled, that as law could not touch the "Mormon" leaders, powder and ball should. John Taylor, who became years afterward president of the Church, was in the jail at the same time; he received four bullets, and was left supposedly dead.
Joseph Smith had been more than the ecclesiastical leader; his presence and personality had been ever powerful as a stimulus to the hearts of the people; none knew his personal power better than the members of his own flock, unless indeed it were the wolves who were ever seeking to harry the fold. It had been the boast of anti-"Mormons" that with Joseph Smith removed, the Church would crumble to pieces of itself. In the personality of their leader, it was thought, lay the secret of the people's strength; and like the Philistines, the enemy struck at the supposed bond of power. Terrible as was the blow of the fearful fatality, the Church soon emerged from its despairing state of poignant grief, and rose mightier than before. It is the faith of this people that while the work of God on earth is carried on by men, yet mortals are but instruments in the Creator's hands for the accomplishment of divine purposes. The death of the president disorganized the First Presidency of the Church; but the official body next in authority, the Council of the Twelve, stepped to the front, and the progress of the Church was unhindered. The work of the ministry was not arrested; the people paused but long enough to bury their dead and clear their eyes from the blinding tears that fell.
Let us take a retrospective glance at this unusual man. Though his opponents deny him the divine commission with which his friends believe he was charged, they all, friends and foes alike, admit that he was a great man. Through the testimony of his life's work and the sanctifying seal of his martyrdom, thousands have come to acknowledge him all that he professed to be--a messenger from God to the people. He is not without admirers among men who deny the truth of his principles and the faith of his people.
A historical writer of the time, Josiah Quincy, a few weeks after the martyrdom, wrote:
It is by no means improbable that some future text book for the use of generations yet unborn, will contain a question something like this: "What historical American of the nineteenth century has exerted the most powerful influence upon the destinies of his countrymen?" And it is by no means impossible that the answer to that interrogatory may be thus written--"Joseph Smith, the Mormon Prophet." And the reply, absurd as it doubtless seems to most men now living, may be an obvious commonplace to their descendants. History deals in surprises and paradoxes quite as startling as this. A man who established a religion in this age of free debate, who was and is today accepted by hundreds of thousands as a direct emissary from the Most High--such a rare human being is not to be disposed of by pelting his memory with unsavory epithets. * * * The most vital questions Americans are asking each other today, have to deal with this man and what he has left us. * * * Joseph Smith, claiming to be an inspired teacher, faced adversity such as few men have been called to meet, enjoyed a brief season of prosperity such as few men have ever attained, and finally * * * went cheerfully to a martyr's death. When he surrendered his person to Governor Ford, in order to prevent the shedding of blood, the Prophet had a presentiment of what was before him. "I am going like a lamb to the slaughter," he is reported to have said, "but I am as calm as a summer's morning. I have a conscience void of offense, and shall die innocent."
The "Mormon" people regarded it as a duty to make every proper effort to bring the perpetrators of the foul assassination of their leaders to justice; sixty names were presented to the local grand jury, and of the persons so designated, nine were indicted. After a farcical semblance of a trial, these were acquitted, and thus was notice, sanctioned by the constituted authority of the law, served upon all anti-"Mormons" of Illinois, that they were safe in any assault they might choose to make on the subjects of their hate. The mob was composed of apt pupils in the learning of this lesson. Personal outrages were of every-day occurrence; husbandmen were captured in their fields, beaten, tortured, until they barely had strength left to promise compliance with the demands of their assailants,--that they would leave the state. Houses were fired while the tenants were wrapped in uneasy slumber within; indeed, one entire town, that of Morley, was by such incendiarism reduced to ashes. Women and children were aroused in the night, and compelled to flee unclad or perish in their burning dwellings.
But what of the internal work of the Church during these trying periods? As the winds of winter, the storms of the year's deepest night, do but harden and strengthen the mountain pine, whose roots strike the deeper, whose branches thicken, whose twigs multiply by the inclemency that would be fatal to the exotic palm, raised by man with hot-house nursing, so the new sect continued its growth, partly in spite of, partly because of, the storms to which it was subjected. It was no green-house growth, struggling for existence in a foreign clime, but a fit plant for the soil of a free land; and there existed in the minds of unprejudiced observers not a doubt as to its vitality. The Church soon found its equilibrium again after the shock of its cruel experience. Brigham Young, who for a decade had been identified with the cause, who had received his full share of persecution at mobocratic hands, now stood at the head of the presiding body in the priesthood of the Church. The effect of this man's wonderful personality, his surprising natural ability, and to the people, the proofs of his divine acceptance, were apparent from the first.
Migration from other states and from foreign shores continued to swell the "Mormon" band, and this but angered the oppressors the more. The members of the Church, recognizing the inevitable long before predicted by their murdered prophet, that the march of the Church would be westward, redoubled their efforts to complete the grand temple upon which they had not ceased to work through all the storms of persecution. This structure, solemnly dedicated to their God, they entered, and there received their anointings and their blessings; then they abandoned it to the desecration and self-condemning outrages of their foes. For the mob's decree had gone forth, that the "Mormons" must leave Illinois. After a few sanguinary encounters, the leaders of the people acceded to the demands of their assailants, and agreed to leave early in the following spring; but the departure was not speedy enough to suit, and the lawless persecution was waged the more ruthlessly.
Soon the soil of Illinois was free from "Mormon" tread; Nauvoo was deserted, her 20,000 inhabitants expatriated. Colonel Thomas L. Kane, a conspicuous figure at this stage of our country's history, was traveling eastward at the time, and reached Nauvoo shortly after its evacuation. In a lecture before the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, he related his experience in this sometime abode of the Saints. I paraphrase a portion of his eloquent address.
Sighting the city from the western shore of the mighty Mississippi, as it nestled in the river's encircling embrace, he crossed to its principal wharf, and, there to his surprise, found no soul to meet him. The stillness that everywhere prevailed was painful, broken only by an occasional faint echo of boisterous shout or ribald song from a distance. The town was in a dream, and the warrior trod lightly lest he wake it in affright, for he plainly saw that it had not slumbered long. No grass grew in the pavement joints; recent footprints were still distinct in the dusty thoroughfares. The visitor made his way unmolested into work-shops and smithies; tools lay as last used; on the carpenter's bench was the unfinished frame, on the floor were the shavings fresh and odorous; the wood was piled in readiness before the baker's oven; the blacksmith's forge was cold, but the shop looked as though the occupant had just gone off for a holiday. The gallant soldier entered gardens unchallenged by owner, human guard, or watchful dog; he might have supposed the people hidden or dead in their houses; but the doors were not fastened, and he entered to explore, there were fresh ashes on the hearth; no great accumulation of the dust of time was on floors or furniture; the awful quiet compelled him to tread a-tip-toe as if threading the aisles of an unoccupied cathedral. He hastened to the graveyard, though surely the city had not been depopulated by pestilence. No; there were a few stones newly set, some sods freshly turned in this sacred acre of God, but where can you find a cemetery of a living town with no such evidence of recent interment? There were fields of heavy grain, the bounteous harvest rotting on the ground; there were orchards dropping their rich and rosy fruit to spoil beneath; not a hand to gather or save.
But in a suburban corner, he came across the smoldering embers of a barbecue fire, with fragments of flesh and other remnants of a feast. Hereabout houses had been demolished; and there beyond, around the great temple that had first attracted his attention from the Iowa shore, armed men were bivouacked. This worthy representative of our country's service was challenged by the drunken crowd, and made to give an account of himself, and to answer for having crossed the river without a permit from the head of the band. Finding that he was a stranger, they related to him in fiendish glee their recent exploits of pillage, rapine, and murder. They conducted him through the temple; everywhere were marks of their brutish acts; its altars of prayer were broken; the baptismal font had been so "diligently desecrated as to render the apartment in which it was contained too noisome to abide in." There in the steeple close by the "scar of divine wrath" left by a recent thunderbolt, were broken covers of liquor and drinking vessels.
Sickened with the sight, disgusted with this spectacle of outrage, the colonel recrossed the river at nightfall, beating upward, for the wind had freshened. Attracted by a faint light near the bank, he approached the spot, there to find a few haggard faces surrounding one who seemed to be in the last stages of fever. The sufferer was partially protected by something like a tent made from a couple of bed sheets; and amid such environment, the spirit was pluming itself for flight. Making his way through this camp of misery, he heard the sobbings of children hungry and sick; there were men and women dying from wounds or disease, without a semblance of shelter or other physical comfort; wives in the pangs of maternity, ushering into the world innocent babes doomed to be motherless from their birth. And at intervals, to the ears of those outcasts, the sick and the dying, the wind brought the soul-piercing sounds of the reveling mob in the distant city, the scrap of vulgar song, the shocking oath, shrieked from the temple tower in the madness of drunken orgies.
This, however, was but the rear remnant of the' expatriated Christian band. The van was already far on its way toward the inviting wilderness of the all but unknown west. But the wanderers were not wholly without friends; certain Indian tribes, the Omahas and the Potawatomis, welcomed them to their lands, inviting them to camp within their territory during the coming winter. "Welcome," said these children of the forest, "we too have been driven from our pleasant homes east of the great river, to these damp and unhealthful bottoms; you now, white men, have been driven forth to the prairies; we are fellow-sufferers. Welcome, brothers."
In return much assistance was rendered by the white refugees to their, shall I say savage friends? If it was civilization the wanderers had left, then indeed might the red men of the forest have felt proud of their distinction. But the Indian agent, a Christian gentleman, ordered the "Mormons" to move on and leave the reservation which a kind government had provided for its red children. An order from President Polk, who had been appealed to by Colonel Kane, gave the people permission to remain for a short season. The government of Iowa had courteously assured them protection while passing through that territory. As soon as the people were well under way, a thorough organization was effected. Remembering the toilsome desert march from Egypt to Canaan, the people assumed the name, "Camp of Israel." The camp consisted of two main divisions, and each was sub-divided into companies of hundreds, fifties, and tens, with captains to direct. An officer with one hundred volunteers went ahead of the main body to select a route and prepare a road. At this time, there were over one thousand wagons of the "Mormons" rolling westward, and the line of march soon reached from the Mississippi to Council Bluffs. There were in the company not half enough draft animals for the arduous march, and but an insufficient number of able-bodied men to tend the camps. The women had to assist in driving teams and stock, and in other labors of the journey. Yet with their characteristic cheerfulness the people made the best, and that proved to be a great deal, out of their lot. When the camp halted, a city seemed to spring as if by magic from the prairie soil. Concerts and social gatherings were usual features of the evening rests.
But another great event disturbed the equanimity of the camp. War had broken out between Mexico and the United States. General Taylor's victories in the early stages of the strife had been all but decisive, but the Republic was on march to the western ocean and the provinces of New Mexico and California were in her path. These two provinces comprised in addition to the territory now designated by those names, Utah, Nevada, portions of Wyoming and Colorado, as also Arizona; while Oregon, then claimed by Great Britain, included Washington, Idaho, and portions of Montana and Wyoming. It was the plan of the national administration to occupy these provinces at the earliest moment possible; and a call was made upon the "Mormon" refugees to contribute to the general force by furnishing a battalion of five hundred men to take part in the war with Mexico. The surprise which the message of the government officer produced in the camp amounted almost to dismay. Five hundred men fit to bear arms to be drafted from that camp! What would become of the rest? Already women and boys had been pressed into service to do the work of men; already the sick and the halt had been neglected; and many graves marked the path they had traversed, whose tenants had passed to their last sleep through lack of care.
But how long did they hesitate? Scarcely an hour; it was the call of their country. True, they were even then leaving the national soil, but not of their own will. To them their country was and is the promised land, the Lord's chosen place, the land of Zion. "You shall have your battalion," said Brigham Young to Captain Allen, the muster officer, "and if there are not young men enough, we will take the old men, and if they are not enough, we will take the women." Within a week from the time President Polk's message was received, the entire force, in all five hundred and forty-nine souls, was on the march to Fort Leavenworth. Their path from the Missouri to the Pacific led them over two thousand miles, much of this distance being measured through deserts, which prior to that time had not been trodden by civilized foot.
Colonel Cooke, the commander of the "Mormon" Battalion, declared, "History may be searched in vain for an equal march of infantry." Many were disabled through the severity of the march, and numerous cases of sickness and death were chronicled. General Kearney and his successor, Governor R. B. Mason, as military commandants of California, spoke in high praise of this organization, and in their official reports declared that they had made efforts to prolong the battalion's term of service; but most of the men chose to rejoin their families as soon as they could secure their honorable discharge.
But to return to the Camp of Israel: A pioneer party, consisting of a hundred and forty and four, preceded the main body; and the line of the migrating hosts soon stretched from the Missouri to the valley of the Great Salt Lake. Wagons there were, as also some horses and men, but all too few for the journey; and a great part of the company walked the full thousand miles across the great plains and the forbidding deserts of the west. In the Black Hills region, the pioneers were delayed a week at the Platte, a stream, which, though usually fordable at this point was now so swollen as to make fording impossible. Here, too, their provisions were well nigh exhausted. Game had not been plentiful, and the "Mormon" pioneers were threatened with the direst privations. In their slow march they had been passed by a number of well-equipped parties, some of them from Missouri bound for the Pacific; but most of these were overtaken on the easterly side of the river. Amongst the effects of the "Mormon" party was a leathern boat, which on water served the legitimate purpose of its maker and on land was made to do service as a wagon box. This, together with rafts specially constructed, was now put to good use in ferrying across the river not alone themselves and their little property, but the other companies and their loads. For this service they were well paid in camp provisions.
Thus, the expatriated pioneers found themselves relieved from want with their meal sacks replenished in the heart of the wilderness. Many may call it superstition, but some will regard it as did the thankful travelers--an interposition of Providence, and an answer to their prayers--an event to be compared, they said, to the feeding of Israel with manna in the wilderness of old.
After over three months' journeying, the pioneer company reached the valley of the Great Salt Lake; and at the first sight of it, Brigham Young declared it to be the halting place--the gathering center for the Saints. But what was there inviting in this wilderness spread out like a scroll barren of inviting message, and empty but for the picture it presented of wondrous scenic grandeur? Looking from the Wasatch barrier, the colonists gazed upon a scene of entrancing though forbidding beauty. A barren, arid plain, rimmed by mountains like a literal basin, still occupied in its lowest parts by the dregs of what had once filled it to the brim; no green meadows, not a tree worthy the name, scarce a patch of greensward to entice the adventurous wanderers into the valley. The slopes were covered with sagebrush, relieved by patches of chaparral oak and squaw-bush; the wild sunflower lent its golden hue to intensify the sharp contrasts. Off to the westward lay the lake, making an impressive, uninviting picture in its severe, unliving beauty; from its blue wastes somber peaks rose as precipitous islands, and about the shores of this dead sea were saline flats that told of the scorching heat and thirsty atmosphere of this parched region. A turbid river ran from south to north athwart the valley, "dividing it in twain," as a historian of the day has written, "as if the vast bowl in the intense heat of the Master Potter's fires, in process of formation had cracked asunder." Small streams of water started in rippling haste from the snow-caps of the mountains toward the lake, but most of them were devoured by the thirsty sands of the valley before their journey was half completed.
Such was the scene of desolation that greeted the pioneer band. A more forsaken spot they had not passed in all their wanderings. And is this the promised land? This is the very place of which Bridger spake when he proffered a thousand dollars in gold for the first bushel of grain that could be raised here. With such a Canaan spread out before them, was it not wholly pardonable if some did sigh with longing for the leeks and flesh-pots of the Egypt they had left, or wished to pass by this land and seek a fairer home? Two of the three women who belonged to the party were utterly disappointed. "Weak, worn, and weary as I am," said one of these heroines, "I would rather push on another thousand miles than stay here."
But the voice of their leader was heard. "The very place," said Brigham Young, and in his prophetic mind there rose a vision of what was to come. Not for a moment did he doubt the future. He saw a multitude of towns and cities, hamlets and villas filling this and neighboring valleys, with the fairest of all, a city whose beauty of situation, whose wealth of resource should become known throughout the world, rising from the most arid site of the burning desert before him, hard by the barren salt shores of the watery waste. There in the very heart of the parched wilderness should stand the House of the Lord, with other temples in valleys beyond the horizon of his gaze.
Within a few hours after the arrival of the vanguard upon the banks of what is now known as City Creek--the mountain stream which today furnishes Salt Lake City part of her water supply--plows were put to work; but the hard-baked soil, never before disturbed by the efforts of man to till, refused to yield to the share. A dam was thrown across the stream and the softening liquid was spread upon the flat that had been chosen for the first fields. The planting season had already well nigh passed, and not a day could be lost. Potatoes and other seed were put in, and the land was again flooded. Such was the beginning of the irrigation system, which soon became co-extensive with the area occupied by the "Mormon" settlers, a system which under the blessing of Providence, has proved to be the veritable magic touch by which the desert has been made a field of richness and a garden of beauty; a system which now after many decades of successful trial is held up by the nation's wise and great ones to be the one practicable method of reclaiming our country's vast domains of arid lands. It was on the 24th of July, 1847, that the main part of the pioneer band entered the valley of the Great Salt Lake, and that day of the year is observed as a legal holiday in Utah. From that time to the present, the stream of immigration to these valleys has never ceased.