Brigham Young


A queer-looking bed wagon, with a woman comfortably settled in it, stopped at the toll bridge. The keeper smiled in amusement. Then he saw the anxious look on the face of the boy who was driving, and he hid his smile. The boy explained that his father had helped him make a special wagon for his ailing mother.

“Any boy who is that good to his mother can drive over the bridge without paying,” said the toll-keeper. He bowed low and waved the wagon on.

The boy was Brigham Young, who had been born in Whittingham, Vermont. His family moved to Smyrna, New York, a few years afterward, but today, 170 years later, he is still remembered in Whittingham. Opposite a store on Route 8, many visitors stop to see the marker that has been placed there in his honor. It reads:

“Brigham Young’s birthplace. Founder of Utah born here. Southward up the steep hill was the birthplace of Brigham Young, June 1, 1801. Three years later the family moved to New York state where he became a Mormon. He led the people from Illinois to Utah and founded Salt Lake City in 1847.”

Brigham was the ninth child of the family. His mother was not well, and all the children learned to work in the home as well as on the farm. Later in his life Brigham said that as a boy he had “no opportunity for letters,” but “I had the privilege of picking up brush, chopping down trees, rolling logs and working among the roots, getting my shins, feet and toes bruised. I learned how to make bread, wash the dishes, milk cows and make butter. … Those are about all the advantages I gained in my youth. I learned how to economize, for my father had to do it.”

When Brigham was fourteen, a great sorrow came to him. His mother, for whom he had felt a special love and closeness, died. It brought sadness in another way too, for Brigham was “farmed out” among the neighbors, and he missed being at home almost as much as he missed his mother.

The story of Brigham Young’s conversion to Mormonism in 1832 and how he became president of the Church after Joseph Smith’s martyrdom is well known to Church members. Many other people, however, acknowledge his greatness in leading thousands of pioneers across the plains to Utah and are familiar with his words, “This is the place,” which he spoke when the first party arrived in the Salt Lake Valley. Children throughout the Church have come to know Brigham Young as a prophet and a colonizer, but less known are stories that reveal him as a kind and loving man.

Clarissa Smith had two best friends. Both of them were daughters of Brigham Young. One day when the girls were together, shortly after Salt Lake Valley was settled in 1847, Josephine and Maimie Young were called from their play and told to meet their father. Clarissa was given permission to go with them. This was an exciting experience for Clarissa, because the meeting place was ZCMI, the biggest store in the little pioneer city. She could hardly wait to look at the beautiful piece goods she had heard about. She had often dreamed of a new dress or coat she might someday be able to have.

Brigham Young warmly greeted his two daughters and their friend. He ushered them through the store until they reached the counter where fabrics were sold.

“Let me see that brown velvet, please,” he asked the storekeeper. The bolt of cloth was lifted down from the shelf and the material was spread out on the counter.

“Please measure off a piece long enough to make cloaks for Maimie and Josephine,” their father directed the storekeeper. Then he looked down at the other little girl, whose eyes reflected her longing to at least touch the beautiful cloth.

“And cut off another length for Clarissa,” he said. Brigham Young smiled down at the girl, whose face shone with surprise and delight. “And please make it a very generous one,” he added.

[illustration] Illustrated by Jerry Harston