Deseret


(Information and quotes are from the Institute manual, Church History in the Fulness of Times, pages 337–351, 415.)
Zion shall flourish upon the hills and rejoice upon the mountains (D&C 49:25).

Deseret

As the Saints began to settle the Salt Lake Valley and to prepare for others to arrive, Brigham Young named the new territory Deseret, a Book of Mormon word meaning “honeybee” (see Ether 2:3). He wanted to encourage the people to turn the wilderness into a “hive” of activity. It turned out to be a very fitting name.

The first of ten more 1847 pioneer companies arrived in September. Soon an adobe fort and 450 log cabins were built, and 5,133 acres were cultivated. Though provisions were scarce, the Saints were happy to have found a home.

By the next spring, provisions were dangerously low. Clothes were wearing out, food supplies were diminishing, and more settlers were arriving. Each person was limited to about one-half pound of flour per day. To exist, families ate crows, wolves, thistle tops, wild berries, bark, roots, and sego lily bulbs while anxiously awaiting the growth of their crops.

In May and June, however, hordes of black crickets, some as big as a man’s thumb, came down from the foothills and began devouring the crops. All who were able took sticks, shovels, brooms, rags, or whatever else they could find and went into the fields to battle the intruders.

The Saints dug trenches around the crops, drove the crickets into them, and tried to drown the pests. Still they came. Brigham Young later joked that when they killed one cricket, two more came to bury the first. It must have seemed that way to the hungry Saints.

For over two weeks they battled crickets while praying for help. Finally, on the Sabbath, while Charles C. Rich was preaching, huge flocks of gulls flew in from the Great Salt Lake and began to devour the crickets. The gulls ate until they were full, vomited what they had eaten, and ate again, repeating this strange behavior for many days, saving much of the crop.

The Saints were humbled by this experience and knew that God was watching over them. This testimony helped them endure, for their trials were not over. The next winter was severe. Frequent snows kept the ground covered. Cattle could not find feed, and it was very difficult for the men to go into the mountains to get firewood. Strong winds and cold also made life in hastily built log cabins miserable.

The following spring, some Saints were making plans to go to California, where they could find milder weather and better supplies. Hearing of these plans, President Heber C. Kimball, First Counselor to Brigham Young, prophesied that in the Salt Lake Valley, “in less than one year there will be plenty of clothes and everything that we shall want sold at less than St. Louis prices.”

President Brigham Young promised, “As the Saints gather here and get strong enough to possess the land, God will temper the climate, and we shall build a city and a temple to the Most High God in this place.” With this encouragement, most of the people stayed.

As promised, the Lord did temper the elements. The next year there was a harvest large enough to feed the nearly sixty-four hundred Saints who had made their way to Deseret.

But this was only half of what had been prophesied. In 1849, gold was discovered in California. Thousands of people rushed west to seek their fortunes. By the time they reached Salt Lake Valley, their wagons needed repairs and they needed supplies. These needs created jobs for the Saints.

Also, in their rush to reach the gold fields, many discarded stoves, food, clothing, furniture, and other things in order to make their wagons lighter. The Saints were able to go out on the prairies and find much of what they needed to build comfortable homes. And merchants on their way to California with wagonloads of goods learned that ships had already taken most items to California. Discouraged, they sold their wares in Salt Lake City at very low prices rather than carry them on to California, where they might not be able to sell them at all. Within three years of Elder Kimball’s prophecy, supplies were abundant in Deseret.

As the Saints prospered, Brigham Young called on many to settle in outlying areas. Eventually the settlements reached south to Mexico, north to Canada, west to California, and east into Colorado. Wherever they settled, the Saints planted crops, set up stores, developed industry, and, in several places, built temples.

One of the first things Brigham Young did upon arriving in the Salt Lake Valley in 1847 was identify a site for the Salt Lake Temple. But construction wasn’t started until 1853, and the temple was not dedicated until 1893.

The first temple completed in the West was in St. George, Utah. It was begun in 1871 and was dedicated on April 6, 1877, during a general conference of the Church. Temples were also dedicated in Logan in May 1884 and in Manti in May 1888.

By 1900 there were four temples in Deseret (now the state of Utah) and thousands of members. They had passed through many trials and faced still more. But the Church was firmly established, and many lessons that would see the Saints through coming bad times had been learned. They, like the prophet Alma, could say, “I have been supported under trials and troubles of every kind, yea, and in all manner of afflictions; yea, God has delivered me from prison, and from bonds, and from death; yea, and I do put my trust in him, and he will still deliver me” (Alma 36:27).