"Far from the worldly crowds and strife, To a visioned city, they toiled their weary way, Seeking amid towering hills the sequestered life Of a peculiar people, a holy nation of the latter day."
JERUSALEM of old, the city of song, sacrifices and tears, the city to which the
Hebrew captives looked from their land of exile on the banks of the Euphrates, had
its modern repetition in this Zion of the Latter Day Saints settled and nestled
in the tops of these Rocky Mountains. The topography of the country is singularly
like that of the Holy Land of history, with the difference that north is changed
to south in its water system.
It has its Dead Sea-the Great Salt Lake- at the north end of this valley and its divide, connecting by a river-the Jordan-flowing out of it and receiving canyon streams on its way south, with the Sea of Galilee-Utah Lake-a fresh water sheet supplied from the springs in the Wa-satch Mountains. Of course there is no Tyre and Zidon, no Joppa and Mount Carmel overlooking the Sea, since this is an inland country far from the ocean. But here are fertile plains and warm valleys, watered by bubbling brooks; here is a land, under the touch of man's hand, that flows with milk and honey.
No wonder then, that these religious enthusiasts marshalled into a religious host by Joseph Smith, with captains like Brigham Young and Herber C. Kimball; such exhorters and teachers as Orson Pratt and Lorenzo Snow, full to the extent of human capacity with "zeal not according to knowledge," should see in this region, secure by distance and the hills from persecutors, the Promised Land.
It did not take very much imagination, so often found joined to enthusiasm, on the part of these saints of the Latter Day to see in themselves a modern Israel coming forth out of a modern Egypt-such as the slave-making states of Tennessee, Kentucky and Missouri-and, under a new Urim and Thummim vested in their priests and leaders, to make the desert pilgrimage into the land of promise and peace.
Only a little warm exhortation, and it was never wanting, was needed to strengthen this fancy into fact.
Originating in New York State, in Wayne County, the site of the memorable hill Cumorah, where Joseph Smith received his revelation by vision and found the historic plates of a past prophet-Mormon-and a defunct people-the Lamanites-this new faith and its following passed with the migratory spirit of the '40's to Nauvoo, Illinois, in the black prairie belt. Soon their peculiar faith made them obnoxious to their neighbors of narrow vision and bigoted belief, so out of their scarcely warmed nest they had to go yet farther west beyond the great river, the Mississippi. They put down their stakes a third time in Missouri, a state just then settling with a mixed population from both the South and the North.
Since these Mormons-for such they were now called by the general community-were "Come-Outers" and were separate from their neighbors, they became first unpopular, then obnoxious to those who differed from them. It must be remembered that the '40's were the years of religious divisions and debates. People loved to argue about shibboleths of religion, even to fighting out their differences.
This fighting was of course generally verbal and ended in another new bisection of religion- some sect of a sect cut off from the parent body. The itinerant preachers who did much good in their rough way with a rough people amid rude surroundings, loved to verbally fight exponents of other shades of opinion.
They found fine stuff for a fight in these "pestilent Mormons." More especially as this peculiar practice of polygamy set these new religionists on the hill of observation and criticism. Here was a fine chance to show up the enemy of orthodoxy, and all the sons of Boanerges-sons of thunder in the pulpit-fulminated at the Latter Day Saints.
Soon this sort of preaching bore its expected fruit. Animosity and hatred were developed and this give and take often ended in blows at these debates and denunciations.
We are not excusing the Mormon leaders or people. They were set in their ways and posed as martyrs of faith. Their undeniable zeal and sincerity won many a female convert from the homes of other faiths, and when such women became embosomed in the Mormon church and the polygamous consorts of some preacher, elder or bishop of this new faith, then the rancor reached its climax in riot.
I do not go into the details of history on this Subject. Books ad nauseam have been written on the subject pro and con. The Mormon side has been voluminously voiced by good recorders and recounters, while the other side has met it with equal heat and greater volume.
Truth is not entirely on either side and both sides made a sorry exhibition of the so-called religion of peace and purity. We know the arrest of the two Smiths-Joseph and Hyrum-ended in the jail being besieged by an angry host of Missourians, who shot down the two brothers on the jail steps and thus ended their leadership of this new-born faith.
Justice could not be had in such a day and place. Men and women were too intense and narrow of temper to give place to anything but prejudice. Out again the Mormons had to come from their settlements and homes, and then followed what the Dutch would call the "Great Trek."
Brigham Young, a man of powerful frame and forceful mind, stepped into the shoes vacated by the dead Seer. With lieutenants of this same shrewd Yankee stock, for he was a Vermonter and they were mostly from down East states, he organized these people into a marching brigade to cross the great American Desert to the Rocky Mountains, there to find a home for them all in a new promised land.
In 1848, the first band set out, with ox wagons and a few horses, to make the long journey that we now swiftly cover in forty-eight hours in a pullman. Innumerable creeks and sloughs to cross, after passing the great Missouri, never ending plains, like those of Kansas, Nebraska and Wyoming, constituted the highway of this host. The Indian, wild and in war paint, was abroad, for he had been greatly nettled and annoyed by the frontier hunter and trapper of those rough days, trespassing on his happy hunting grounds. The bison roamed in vast herds, and the prairie fires swept to the horizon through the long grass of these wild fields of pasture.
But these men and women, of faith, girded up their loins and strapped on their guns, their all housed in the prairie schooner wagons under the hoops and canvas covers; with a "haw" and "gee," they started out with the spirit of adventure in their eyes and the zeal of their religion in their hearts. Oh! the wild ride that they made through these unknown wastes of land. They fought the Indians at the fords, the savage beasts at night, the fires in the fall when the herbage was dry as tinder; they suffered the sickness that accompanied insufficient food and poor sanitation in camps, when they had to make long rests for their cattle to recoup.
They had started too late in July for so long a journey, and recked not of the early winter of the mountains to which they journeyed.
This has been the fault of most migrations,- a late start,-and insufficient knowledge of the length of the way. Oh! they were weary, more weary than the people of Israel in the desert of Sinai, who wearied of the length of the way as recounted in the Scripture. Israel had a Presence in the cloud by day and in the fire by night, and thus they said to themselves, in that day, "If the Lord be for us, who can be against us?" An infallible guide did not call these Mormons to halt and make camp.
Their leaders were known as prophets, priests and elders; but they were fallible men, not guides familiar with the plains and the seasons. So winter caught them, weak from the long trek and want of food, cattle gaunt, or gone to dust on the road far back.
Many lay down to die by the way, and many a little mound spoke of the children's resting place after the mother's arm had to give them up. Still their faith flowed on although their blood grew thin and their knees were feeble as they pushed forward. Through the canyons they passed into the valleys of the Rocky Mountains,
Brigham Young with a few others pressed ahead looking for the place that he claimed he had seen in vision and which was to be their destined home and the promised land of peace and plenty.
This little scouting party came out of the mountains just above where the City of Salt Lake now stands. They stood upon the hill,-afterwards the site of Camp Douglas and the post of authority of Uncle Sam during territorial days,-and saw before them the Salt Sea, the valley widely stretching south, the river flowing to the limit of their vision through the divide which hid yet another and greater valley.
"Here is the place that the Lord has chosen for this people!"
It was Brigham Young's voice and the others bowed in assent as to the voice of a prophet.
Thus they came to their seat in the tops of the mountains, and from this center they spread out to occupy any ground that had water tributary to it,-for this was a land where irrigation was necessary.
Other divisions of the Mormon host followed the next season; and soon this waste was peopled with a race fitted to endure hardships such as face all pioneers.
The over-zeal of the leaders, however, a little later on led to a fatal mistake. The order went out to the rest of the waiting people on the banks of the Missouri, not to provide themselves with wagons and oxen, but to content themselves with two-wheeled push-carts in which they were to stow their goods; to come on thus in faith, and the Lord would provide. Fine sounding words to the faithful, but foolish council to the remnant of these people, eager for their earthly Zion. Of course they started and at first did well; but the length of the way was too much for the strength of the carts and those who pushed and pulled them.
It is wonderful how this multitude of men, women and children got so far. They had walked to the canyons of the Rockies late in the fall season,-for it was slow work going this way by foot. Then the sudden cold caught them and the snows covered them. They fell down as they halted for the night and many were still down to stay, when the dim morning light pierced the falling snow flakes.
The others struggled on to drop as their fellows before them, the snow their winding sheet. A few hardy ones struggled through the drifted passes and like ghosts appeared in the city of the Saints with cries:-
"They are dying! Come with food and help!"
The relief went out with hope, but it was a hope not realized; only an expectation without fruitage.
They found the train of way-worn pilgrims but they had all passed on to another life.
Faith has its triumphs, but also its tragedies. Faith can overcome mountains, but faith can fall in the climbing; like all other human things, faith has its failures. No matter what the directors of this push cart expedition believed possible in the interests of faith, no matter what the obedient host did in trying to obtain success through faith, the impossible blocked the way and this mighty pilgrimage of faith ended in a fiasco.
Next: Chapter IV: Church, State and Camp