General Epistle


The general epistles were pastoral letters relating current events of the Church and direction and counsel from Church leaders. The Council of the Twelve, with Brigham Young as its president, had led the Church during the long Apostolic Interregnum following the martyrdom of the Prophet Joseph Smith. The day after this general Epistle from the Council of the Twelve Apostles was signed, a general conference of the Church was convened on the Iowa side of the Missouri River (Council Bluffs). On the last day of that conference, December 27, 1847, the First Presidency was reorganized with Brigham Young as president and Heber C. Kimball and Willard Richards as counselors; they had been selected by the apostles on December 5. The action of this conference was later ratified by a conference in the Salt Lake Valley in April 1848, and in the British Isles at a conference held in Manchester on August 14, 1848. This general epistle was published in the Millennial Star March 15, 1848, and the Ensign has preserved the original British spelling.

General Epistle

Brigham Young

from the Council of the Twelve Apostles, to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, abroad, dispersed throughout the Earth, Greeting:

Beloved Brethren,—At no period since the organization of the Church on the 6th of April, 1830, have the Saints been so extensively scattered, and their means of receiving information from the proper source, so limited, as since their expulsion from Illinois; and the time has now arrived when it will be profitable for you to receive, by our Epistle, such information and instruction as the Father hath in store, and which he has made manifest by his Spirit.

Knowing the designs of our enemies, we left Nauvoo in February, 1846, with a large pioneer company, for the purpose of finding a place where the Saints might gather and dwell in peace. The season was very unfavorable, and the repeated and excessive rains, and scarcity of provision, retarded our progress, and compelled us to leave a portion of the camp in the wilderness, at a place we called Garden Grove, composed of an enclosure for an extensive farm and sixteen houses, the fruits of our labour; and soon after, from similar causes, we made another location, called Mount Pisgah, leaving another portion of the camp, and after searching the route, making the road, and bridges over a multitude of streams, for more than three hundred miles, mostly on lands then occupied by the Pottawatamie Indians, and since vacated in favour of the United States, lying on the south and west, and included within the boundary of Iowa, we arrived near Council Bluffs, on the Missouri River, during the latter part of June, where we were met by Capt. J. Allen, from Fort Leavenworth, soliciting us to enlist five hundred men in the service of the United States. To this call of our country, we promptly responded, and before the middle of July more than five hundred of the Brethren were embodied in the “Mormon Battalion,” and on their march for California, by way of Fort Leavenworth, under command of Lieut. Col. J. Allen, leaving hundreds of wagons, teams, and families, destitute of protectors and guardians, on the open prairie, in a savage country, far from the abodes of civilized life, and farther still from any place where they might hope to locate.

Our camp, although aware of a cold northern winter approaching, with all attendant evils, famine, risk of life in an unhealthy climate, Indian depredations, and every thing of a like nature that would tend to make life gloomy, responded to this call of the President with all the alacrity that is due from children to a parent; and when the strength of our camp had taken its departure in the battalion, the aged, the infirm, the widow and the fatherless that remained, full of hope and buoyant with faith, determined to prosecute their journey, a small portion of which went as far west as the Pawnee Mission, where, finding it too late to pass the mountains, they turned aside to winter on the banks of the Missouri, at the mouth of the Running Water, about two hundred and fifty miles northwest of the Missouri settlements; while the far more extensive and feeble numbers located at this place, called by us Winter Quarters, where upwards of seven hundred houses were built in the short space of about three months; while the great majority located on Pottawatamie lands. In July there were more than two thousand emigrating wagons between this and Nauvoo.

In September, 1846, an infuriated mob, clad in all the horrors of war, fell on the Saints who had still remained in Nauvoo for want of means to remove, murdered some, and drove the remainder across the Mississippi into Iowa; where destitute of houses, tents, food, clothing, or money, they received temporary assistance from some benevolent souls in Quincy, St. Louis, and other places, whose names will ever be remembered with gratitude. But at that period the Saints were obliged to scatter to the north, south, east, and west, wherever they could find shelter and procure employment. And, hard as it is to write it—it must ever remain a truth on the page of history—that while the flower of Israel’s camp were sustaining the wings of the American eagle, by their influence and arms in a foreign country, their brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, and children, were driven by mob violence from a free and independent State of the same national Republic, and were compelled to flee from the fire, the sword, the musket, and the cannon’s mouth, as from the demon of death. From that time to this the Latter-day Saints have been roaming without home from Canada to New Orleans, from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean, and many have taken up their abode in foreign lands. Their property in Hancock County, Illinois, was little or no better than confiscated: many of their houses were burned by the mob, and they were obliged to leave most of those that remained without sale; and those who bargained, sold almost for a song; for the influence of their enemies was to cause such a diminuation of the value of property, that from a handsome estate was seldom realized enough to remove the family comfortably away; and thousands have since been wandering to and fro, destitute, afflicted, and distressed for the common necessaries of life, or, unable to endure, have sickened and died by hundreds, while the Temple of the Lord is left solitary in the midst of our enemies, an enduring monument of the diligence and integrity of the Saints.

Lieut. Col. Allen died at Fort Leavenworth, much lamented by the “Mormon Battalion,” who proceeded en route by the way of Santa Fe, from whence a small portion, who were sick, returned to Pueblo to winter; while the remainder continued their march, mostly on half rations, or meat without salt, making new roads, digging deep wells in the desert, levelling mountains, performing severe labours and undergoing the utmost fatigue and hardship ever endured by infantry, as reported by Col. Cooke, their commanding officer, and arrived in California, in the neighborhood of San Diego, with the loss of very few men.

Soon after the battalion left the Bluffs, three of the Council took their departure for England, where they spent the winter, preaching and setting in order all things pertaining to the Church, and returned to this place in the spring of 1847, as did also the camp from Running Water, for provisions.

On April 14th, the remainder of the Council, in company of one hundred and forty-three pioneers, left this place in search of a location, and making a new road, a majority of more than one thousand miles westward, arrived at the Great Basin in the latter part of July; where we found a beautiful valley of some twenty by thirty miles in extent, with a lofty range of mountains on the east, capped with perpetual snow, and a beautiful line of mountains on the west, watered with daily showers; the Utah Lake on the south, hid by a range of hills, with a delightful prospect of the beautiful waters of the Great Salt Lake on the northwest, extending as far as the eye can reach, interspersed with lofty islands, and a continuation of the valley or opening on the north, extending along the eastern shore about sixty miles to the mouth of Bear River. The soil of the valley appeared good, but will require irrigation to promote vegetation, though there are many small streams emptying in from the mountains, and the Western Jordan (Utah Outlet) passes through from south to north. The climate is warm, dry, and healthy; good salt abounds at the lake; warm, hot, and cold springs are common; mill sites excellent; but the valley is destitute of timber. The box, the fir, the pine, the sugar maple, &c., may be found on the mountains sufficient for consumption, or until more can grow.

In this valley we located a site for a city, to be called the Great Salt Lake City; of the Great Basin, North America; and, for the convenience of the Saints, instituted and located the Great Basin Post Office at this point. The city is surveyed in blocks of ten acres, eight lots to a block; with streets eight rods wide, crossing at right angles. One block is reserved for a Temple, and several more in different parts of the city for public grounds.

Soon after our arrival in the valley, we were joined by that portion of the battalion, who had been stationed at Pueblo, and a small camp of the Saints from Mississippi, who had wintered at the same place, who united with the pioneers in ploughing, planting, and sowing near one hundred acres, with a great variety of seeds; and in laying the foundation of a row of houses around a ten acre block, and nearly completing the same on one side. Materials for brick and stone buildings are abundant.

After tarrying four or five weeks, most of the pioneers commenced their return, nearly destitute of provision, accompanied by a part of the battalion, who were quite destitute, except a very small quantity of beef, which was soon exhausted. The company had to depend for their subsistence on wild beasts, such as buffalo, deer, antelope, &c., which, most of the way, were very scarce; and many obtained, were exceedingly poor and unwholesome. Between the Green and Sweetwater Rivers, we met five hundred and sixty-six wagons of the emigrating Saints, on their way to the valley; at our last encampment with whom, we had fifty horses and mules stolen by the Indians; and a few days after, we were attacked by a large war party of Sioux, who drove off many of our horses, but most of these we recovered. Our route was by Fort Bridger, the South Pass, Fort John, (Laramie), and from thence on the north bank of the Platte, to Winter Quarters, where we arrived on the 31st of October, all well; having performed this long and tedious journey, with ox as well as horse teams, and with little food except wild flesh, without losing a single man, although many were sick when they left in the spring, insomuch that they were unable to walk until we had travelled more than one half of the outward distance. …

All who possibly could went to the valley this season; and the Saints now in this vicinity have had to depend on their own resources, in labour, for their sustenance, which, on account of the absence of those engaged in the government service, the sickness that has prevailed in camp, and the destruction of the cattle by the Indians, consists mostly of corn, with a few garden vegetables. …

In compliance with the wishes of the sub-agents, we expect to vacate the Omaha lands in the spring. Thus, brethren, we have given you a brief idea of what has transpired among us since we left Nauvoo; the present situation of the Saints and this vicinity, and of our feelings and views in general, as preparatory to the reply which we are about to give to the cry of the Saints from all quarters, What shall we do?

Gather yourselves together speedily, near to this place, on the east side of the Missouri River, and, if possible, be ready to start from hence by the first of May next, or as soon as grass is sufficiently grown, and go to the Great Salt Lake City, with bread stuff sufficient to sustain you until you can raise grain the following season. Let the Saints who have been driven and scattered from Nauvoo, and all others in the Western States, gather immediately to the east bank of the river, bringing with them all the young stock, of various kinds, they possibly can; and let all the Saints in the United States and Canada gather to the same place, by the first spring navigation, or as soon as they can, bringing their money, goods, and effects with them; and, so far as they can consistently, gather young stock by the way, which is much needed here, and will be ready sale: and when here, let all who can, go directly over the mountains; and those who cannot, let them go immediately to work at making improvements, raising grain and stock, on the lands recently vacated by the Pottawatamie Indians, and owned by the United States, and by industry they can soon gather sufficient means to prosecute their journey. In a year or two their young cattle will grow into teams; by interchange of labour they can raise their own grain and provisions, and build their own wagons; and by sale of their improvements, to citizens who will gladly come and occupy, they can replenish their clothing, and thus speedily and comfortably procure an outfit. All Saints who are coming on this route, will do well to furnish themselves with woolen or winter, instead of summer clothing, generally, as they will be exposed to many chilling blasts before they pass the mountain heights.

We have named the Pottawatamie lands as the best place for the Brethren to assemble on the route, because the journey is so very long, that they must have a stopping place, and this is the nearest point to their final destination, which makes it not only desirable, but necessary; and, as it is a wilderness country, it will not infringe on the rights and privileges of any one; and yet it is so near Western Missouri, that a few days travel will give them an opportunity of trade, if necessity requires, and this is the best general rendezvouz that now presents, without intruding on the rights of others. …

The Brethren must recollect that from this point they pass through a savage country, and their safety depends on good firearms and plenty of ammunition;—and then they may have their teams run off in open daylight, as we have had, unless they shall watch closely and continually.

The Presidents of the various branches will cause this Epistle to be read to those under their council, and give such instruction in accordance therewith as the Spirit shall dictate; teaching them to live by every principle of righteousness, walk humbly before God, doing his will in all things, that they may have his Spirit to lead them and assist them speedily to the gathering place of his Saints.

Let the Seventies, High Priests, Elders, Priests, Teachers, and Deacons report themselves, immediately on their arrival at the Bluffs, to the Presidency of their respective Quorums, if present, and if not, to the Presidency or Council of the place, that their names may be registered with their Quorum, and that they may be known among their Brethren.

It is the duty of all parents to train up their children in the way they should go, instructing them in every correct principle, so fast as they are capable of receiving, and setting an example worthy of imitation; for the Lord holds parents responsible for the conduct of their children, until they arrive at the years of accountability before him; and the parents will have to answer for all misdemeanors arising through their neglect. Mothers should teach their little ones to pray as soon as they are able to talk. Presiding Elders should be particular to instruct parents concerning their duty, and Teachers and Deacons should see that they do it.

It is very desirable that all the Saints should improve every opportunity of securing at least a copy of every valuable treatise on education—every book, map, chart, or diagram that may contain interesting, useful, and attractive matter, to gain the attention of children, and cause them to love to learn to read; and, also every historical, mathematical, philosophical, geographical, geological, astronomical, scientific, practical, and all other variety of useful and interesting writings, maps, &c., to present to the General Church Recorder, when they shall arrive at their destination, from which important and interesting matter may be gleaned to compile the most valuable works, on every science and subject, for the benefit of the rising generation.

We have a printing press, and any who can take good printing or writing paper to the valley will be blessing themselves and the Church. We also want all kinds of mathematical and philosophical instruments, together with all rare specimens of natural curiosities and works of art that can be gathered and brought to the valley, where, and from which, the rising generation can receive instruction; and if the Saints will be diligent in these matters, we will soon have the best, the most useful and attractive museum on the earth.

Let every Elder keep a journal and gather historical facts concerning the Church and world, with specific dates, and present the same to the Historian; also, let the presiding officer of every emigrating company, immediately on arrival, see that his clerk presents the Recorder with a perfect list of the names of every soul, the number of wagons, teams, and every living thing in his camp, and let all Saints organize at, and travel from the Pottawatamie District, according to the pattern which will there be given them. …

We wish the Traveling Elders throughout the world, to remember the revelations of the Doctrine and Covenants, and say nought to this generation but repentance; and if men have faith to repent, lead them into the waters of baptism, lay your hands upon them for the reception of the Holy Ghost, confirm them in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, comfort their hearts, teach them the principles of righteousness and uprightness between man and man; administer to them bread and wine, in the remembrance of the death of Jesus Christ, and if they want further information, tell them to flee to Zion.—There the servants of God will be ready to wait upon them, and teach them all things that pertain to salvation, and any thing beyond this in your teaching cometh of evil, for it is not required at your hands, but leadeth you into snares and temptations which tendeth to condemnation. Should any ask, Where is Zion? tell them in America; and if any ask, What is Zion? tell them the pure in heart.

It is the duty of the rich Saints every where, to assist the poor, according to their ability, to gather; and if they choose, with a covenant and promise that the poor thus helped, shall repay as soon as they are able. It is also the duty of the rich, those who have the intelligence and the means, to come home forthwith, and establish factories, and all kinds of machinery, that will tend to give employment to the poor, and produce those articles which are necessary for the comfort, convenience, health and happiness of the people; and no one need to be at a loss concerning his duty in these matters, if he will walk so humbly before God as to keep the small still whisperings of the Holy Ghost within him continually.

Let all Saints who love God more than their own dear selves—and none else are Saints—gather without delay to the place appointed, bringing their gold, their silver, their copper, their zinc, their tin, and brass, and iron, and choice steel, and ivory, and precious stones; their curiosities of science, of art, of nature, and every thing in their possession or within their reach, to build in strength and stability, to beautify, to adorn, to embellish, to delight, and to cast a fragrance over the House of the Lord, with sweet instruments of music and melody, and songs, and fragrance and sweet odours, and beautiful colours, whether it be in precious jewels, or minerals, or choice ores, or in wisdom and knowledge, or understanding, manifested in carved work; or curious workmanship of the box, the fir and pine tree, or any thing that ever was, or is, or is to be, for the exaltation, glory, honour, and salvation of the living and the dead, for time and for all eternity. Come, then, walking in righteousness before God, and your labour shall be accepted; and kings will be your nursing fathers, and queens will be your nursing mothers, and the glory of the whole earth shall be yours, in connexion with all those who shall keep the commandments of God; or else the Bible, those ancient prophets, who prophecied from generation to generation, and which the present generation profess to believe, must fail; for the time has come for the Saints to go up to the mountains of the Lord’s house, and help to establish it upon the tops of the mountains, and the name of the Lord shall be there, and the glory of the Lord will be there, and the excellency of the Lord will be there, and the honour of the Lord will be there, and the exaltation of his Saints will be there, and they will be held as in the hollow of his hand, and be hid as in the cleft of the rock, when the overflowing scourge of Jehovah shall go through to depopulate the earth, and lay waste the nations because of their wickedness, and cleanse the land from pollution and blood.

We are at peace with all nations, with all kingdoms, with all powers, with all governments, with all authorities under the whole heavens, except the kingdom and power of darkness, which are from beneath, and are ready to stretch forth our arms to the four quarters of the globe, extending salvation to every honest soul: for our mission in the gospel of Jesus Christ is from sea to sea, and from the river to the ends of the earth; and the blessing of the Lord is upon us; and when every other arm shall fail, the power of the Almighty will be manifest in our behalf; for we ask nothing but what is right, we want nothing but what is right, and God has said that our strength shall be equal to our day; and we invite all Presidents, and Emperors, and Kings, and Princes, and Nobles, and Governors, and Rulers, and Judges, and all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people under the whole heaven to come and help us to build a house to the name of the God of Jacob, a place of peace, a city of rest, a habitation for the oppressed of every clime, even for those that love their neighbour as they do themselves, and who are willing to do as they would be done unto; and this we are determined to do, and we will do, God being our helper; and we will help every one that will help to sustain good and wholesome laws for the protection of virtue and punishment of vice.

The kingdom which we are establishing is not of this world, but is the kingdom of the Great God. It is the fruit of righteousness, of peace, of salvation to every soul that will receive it, from Adam down to his latest posterity. Our good will is towards all men, and we desire their salvation in time and eternity; and we will do them good so far as God will give us the power, and men will permit us the privilege; and we will harm no man; but if men will rise up against the power of the Almighty to overthrow his cause, let them know assuredly that they are running on the bosses of Jehovah’s buckler, and, as God lives, they will be overthrown.

Come, then, ye Saints; come, then, ye honorable men of the earth; come, then, ye wise, ye learned, ye rich, ye noble, according to the riches, and wisdom, and knowledge of the great Jehovah; from all nations, and kindreds, and kingdoms, and tongues, and people, and dialects on the face of the whole earth, and join the standard of Emanuel, and help us to build up the Kingdom of God, and establish the principles of truth, life, and salvation, and you shall receive your reward among the sanctified, when the Lord Jesus Christ cometh to make up his jewels; and no power on earth or in hell can prevail against you.

The Kingdom of God consists in correct principles; and it mattereth not what a man’s religious faith is; whether he be a Presbyterian, or a Methodist, or a Baptist, or a Latter-day Saint or “Mormon,” or a Campbellite, or a Catholic, or Episcopalian, or Mahometan, or even pagan, or any thing else, if he will bow the knee, and with his tongue confess that Jesus is the Christ, and will support good and wholesome laws for the regulation of society, we hail him as a brother, and will stand by him while he stands by us in these things; for every man’s religious faith is a matter between his own soul and his God alone; but if he shall deny the Jesus, if he shall curse God, if he shall indulge in debauchery and drunkenness, and crime; if he shall lie, and swear, and steal; if he shall take the name of the Great God in vain, and commit all manner of abominations, he shall have no place in our midst, for we have long sought to find a people that will work in righteousness, that will distribute justice equally, that will acknowledge God in all their ways, that will regard those sacred laws and ordinances which are recorded in that sacred book called the Bible, which we verily believe, and which we proclaim to the ends of the earth.

We ask no pre-eminence; we want no pre-eminence; but where God has placed us, there we will stand; and that is, to be one with our brethren, and our brethren are those that keep the commandments of God, that do the will of our Father who is in heaven; and by them we will stand, and with them we will dwell in time and in eternity.

Come, then, ye Saints of Latter-day, and all ye great and small, wise and foolish, rich and poor, noble and ignoble, exalted and persecuted, rulers and ruled of the earth, who love virtue and hate vice, and help us to do this work, which the Lord hath required at our hands; and inasmuch as the glory of the latter house shall exceed that of the former, your reward shall be an hundred fold, and your rest shall be glorious. Our universal motto is, “Peace with God and good will to all men.”

Written at Winter Quarters, Omaha Nation, west bank of Missouri River, near Council Bluffs, North America, and signed December 23d, 1847, in behalf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

Brigham Young, President. Willard Richards, Clerk. —Millennial Star Vol. 10, pp. 81–88

[illustrations] The paintings on these two pages by Carl Christian Anton (“CCA”) Christensen show Winter Quarters at Council Bluffs, Iowa. It was from this situation in 1847 that President Brigham Young issued the general epistle to the Saints published here as a Classic in Mormon Thought. Pioneer artist Christensen, a native of Denmark, crossed the plains with a handcart company in 1857. His work is discussed in an article “Early Mormon Artist Proclaimed ‘Art Discovery of 1970,’” Improvement Era, May 1970, p. 18–26.