Chapter 15: The Settlement in the West

Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, (1997), 100–109


President Brigham Young declared: “God has shown me that this is the spot to locate this people, and here is where they will prosper. … 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. We will extend our settlements to the east and west, to the north and to the south, and we will build towns and cities by the hundreds, and thousands of Saints will gather in from the nations of the earth. This will become the great highway of nations” (JSB).

Teachings of Brigham Young

Conflict in Illinois and the flight of the Saints to the West.

I do not wish men to understand I had anything to do with our being moved here [to the Salt Lake Valley], that was the providence of the Almighty; it was the power of God that wrought out salvation for this people, I never could have devised such a plan (DBY, 480).

I did not devise the great scheme of the Lord’s opening the way to send this people to these mountains. Joseph contemplated the move for years before it took place, but he could not get here (DBY, 480).

In the days of Joseph we have sat many hours at a time conversing about this very country. Joseph has often said, “If I were only in the Rocky Mountains with a hundred faithful men, I would then be happy, and ask no odds of mobocrats” (DBY, 480).

We lived in Illinois from 1839 to 1844, by which time [enemies of the Church] again succeeded in kindling the spirit of persecution against Joseph and the Latter-day Saints. Treason! Treason! Treason! they cried, calling us murderers, thieves, liars, adulterers, and the worst people on the earth. … They took Joseph and Hyrum, and as a guarantee for their safety, Governor Thomas Ford pledged the faith of the State of Illinois. They were imprisoned [in Carthage, Illinois], on the pretense of safekeeping, because the mob was so enraged and violent. The Governor left them in the hands of the mob, who entered the prison and shot them dead. John Taylor, who is present with us today, was in the prison, too, and was also shot, and was confined to his bed for several months afterwards. After the mob had committed these murders, they came upon us and burned our houses and grain. When the brethren would go out to put out the fire, the mob would lie concealed under fences, and in the darkness of the night, they would shoot them (DBY, 473).

In the year 1845 I addressed letters to all the Governors of states and territories in the Union, asking them for an asylum, within their borders, for the Latter-day Saints. We were refused such privilege, either by silent contempt or a flat denial in every instance. They all agreed that we could not come within the limits of their territory or state (DBY, 474).

Three congressmen came [to Nauvoo] in the fall of 1845, and had a conference with the Twelve and others; they were desirous that we should leave the United States. We told them we would do so, we had stayed long enough with them; we agreed to leave the State of Illinois in consequence of that religious prejudice against us that we could not stay in peace any longer. These men said the people were prejudiced against us. Stephen A. Douglas, one of the three, had been acquainted with us. He said, “I know you, I know Joseph Smith; he was a good man,” and this people are a good people; but the prejudices of the … ungodly are such that, said he, “Gentlemen, you cannot stay here and live in peace.” We agreed to leave. We left Nauvoo in February, 1846 (DBY, 473).

I crossed the Mississippi River, with my brethren, for this place, not knowing, at that time, whither we were going, but firmly believing that the Lord had in reserve for us a good place in the mountains, and that he would lead us directly to it (DBY, 482).

We were menaced on every side by the cruel persecutions of our inveterate enemies; hundreds of families, who had been forced from their homes, and compelled to leave behind them their all, were wandering as exiles in a state of abject destitution (DBY, 482).

We were migrating, we knew not whither, except that it was our intention to go beyond the reach of our enemies. We had no home, save our wagons and tents, and no stores of provisions and clothing; but had to earn our daily bread by leaving our families in isolated locations for safety, and going among our enemies to labor (DBY, 478).

We travelled west, stopping in places, building settlements, where we [temporarily] left the poor who could not travel any farther with the company (DBY, 474).

Recruitment and march of the Mormon Battalion.

When we were right in the midst of Indians, who were said to be hostile, five hundred men were called to go to Mexico to fight [in the Mexican War, 1846–48] (DBY, 476).

I went myself, in company with a few of my brethren, between one and two hundred miles along the several routes of travel, stopping at every little camp, using our influence to obtain volunteers, and on the day appointed for the rendezvous [16 July 1846 at Council Bluffs, Iowa] the required complement was made up; and this was all accomplished in about twenty days from the time that the requisition was made known (DBY, 479).

That battalion took up their line of march from Fort Leavenworth by way of Santa Fe, and over the desert and dreary route, and planted themselves in the lower part of California, to the joy of all the officers and men that were loyal. At the time of their arrival, General [Stephen W.] Kearny was in a [difficult] position, and Colonel P. St. George Cooke [the battalion’s new leader] promptly marched the battalion to his relief, and said to him, “We have the boys here now that can put all things right.” The boys in that battalion performed their duty faithfully. I never think of that little company of men without the next thoughts being, “God bless them for ever and for ever.” All this we did to prove to the Government that we were loyal (DBY, 477).

Our battalion went to the scene of action, not in easy berths on steamboats, nor with a few months’ absence, but on foot over two thousand miles across trackless deserts and barren plains, experiencing every degree of privation, hardship, and suffering during some two years’ absence before they could rejoin their families. Thus was our deliverance again affected by the interposition of that All-wise Being who can discern the end from the beginning (DBY, 479).

Under … trying circumstances we were required to turn out of our traveling camps five hundred of our most efficient men, leaving the old, the young, the women upon the hands of the residue, to take care of and support (DBY, 478).

Those of us who remained behind labored and raised all that we needed to feed ourselves in the wilderness. We had to pay our own schoolteachers, raise our own bread and earn our own clothing, or go without, there was no other choice (DBY, 476).

The “camp of the poor” was preserved by the mercies of the Lord.

There remained behind a few of the very poor, the sick and the aged, who suffered again from the violence of the mob; they were whipped and beaten, and had their houses burned (DBY, 473–74).

[These] brethren who tarried by the way [along the riverbank above Montrose, Iowa] were toiling through poverty and distress. At one time, I was told, they would have perished from starvation, had not the Lord sent quails among them. These birds flew against their wagons, and they either killed or stunned themselves, and the brethren and sisters gathered them up, which furnished them with food for days, until they made their way in the wilderness. [Brigham Young sent rescue companies to bring these Saints on to join relatives and friends in camps further along the trail.] (DBY, 474).

Brigham Young’s pioneer company of 1847 piloted the way to the Salt Lake Valley.

Some of the time we followed Indian trails, some of the time we ran by the compass; when we left the Missouri river we followed the Platte [River]. And we killed rattlesnakes by the cord in some places; and made roads and built bridges till our backs ached. Where we could not build bridges across rivers, we ferried our people across (DBY, 480).

When we met Mr. Bridger [proprietor of Fort Bridger, Wyoming] on the Big Sandy River [28 June 1847], said he, “Mr. Young, I would give a thousand dollars if I knew an ear of corn could be ripened in [these mountains].” Said I, “Wait eighteen months and I will show you many of them.” Did I say this from knowledge? No, it was my faith; but we had not the least encouragement—from natural reasoning and all that we could learn of this country—of its sterility, its cold and frost, to believe that we could ever raise anything. … We had faith that we could raise grain; was there any harm in this? Not at all. If we had not had faith, what would have become of us? We would have gone down in unbelief, have closed up every resource for our sustenance and should never have raised anything (DBY, 481).

[On 30 June 1847,] when the Pioneer company reached Green River [about 80 miles east of the Great Salt Lake Valley], we met Samuel Brannan and a few others from [San Francisco,] California, and they wanted us to go there. I remarked, “Let us go to California, and we cannot stay there over five years; but let us stay in the mountains, and we can raise our own potatoes, and eat them; and I calculate to stay here.” We are still on the backbone of the animal, where the bone and the sinew are, and we intend to stay here, and all hell cannot help themselves (DBY, 475).

Myself, with others, came out of what we named Emigration Canyon; we crossed the Big and Little mountains, and came down the valley about three quarters of a mile south of this. [Orson Pratt and Erastus Snow entered the Salt Lake Valley on 21 July 1847; the advance and main companies arrived on 22 July. The rear company with President Brigham Young, who was suffering from the effects of mountain fever, entered the valley on 24 July.] We located, and we looked about, and finally we came and camped between the two forks of City Creek, one of which ran southwest and the other west. Here we planted our standard on this temple block and the one above it; here we pitched our camps and determined that here we would settle and stop (DBY, 474).

pioneers and seagulls

In 1848 a plague of crickets threatened to destroy the crops of the Saints. In answer to fervent prayer, the Lord sent seagulls to stop the crickets, as depicted in this painting.

Through faith in God the Saints surmounted their difficulties in the West.

We arrived here, where we found a few … Indians, a few wolves and rabbits, and any amount of crickets; but as for a green tree or a fruit tree, or any green field, we found nothing of the kind, with the exception of a few cottonwoods and willows on the edge of City Creek. For some 1200 or 1300 miles we carried every particle of provision we had when we arrived here. When we left our homes we picked up what the mob did not steal of our horses, oxen and calves and some women drove their own teams here. Instead of 365 pounds of breadstuff when they started from the Missouri river, there was not half of them had half of it. We had to bring our seed grain, our farming utensils, bureaus, secretaries [desks], sideboards, sofas, pianos, large looking glasses, fine chairs, carpets, nice shovels and tongs and other fine furniture, with all the parlor, cook stoves, etc, and we had to bring these things piled together with some women and children, helter skelter, topsy-turvy, with broken-down horses, … oxen with three legs, and cows with one teat. This was our only means of transportation, and if we had not brought our goods in this manner we would not have had them, for there was nothing here (DBY, 480).

The Saints were poor when they came into this valley (DBY, 475).

They picked up a few buckskins, antelope skins, sheep skins, buffalo skins, and made leggings and moccasins of them, and wrapped the buffalo robes around them. Some had blankets and some had not; some had shirts, and I guess some had not. One man told me that he had not a shirt for himself or family (DBY, 475–76).

I will venture to say that not one of four out of my family had shoes to their feet when we came to this valley (DBY, 476).

We have faith, we live by faith; we came to these mountains by faith. We came here, I often say, though to the ears of some the expression may sound rather rude, naked and barefoot, and comparatively this is true (DBY, 481).

We prayed over the land, and dedicated it and the water, air and everything pertaining to them unto the Lord, and the smiles of heaven rested on the land and it became productive, and today yields us the best of grain, fruit and vegetables (DBY, 483).

Until the Latter-day Saints came here, not a person among all the mountaineers and those who had traveled here, so far as we could learn, believed that an ear of corn would ripen in these valleys. We know that corn and wheat produce abundantly here, and we know that we have an excellent region wherein to raise cattle, horses, and every other kind of domestic animal that we need (DBY, 485).

There never has been a land, from the days of Adam until now, that has been blessed more than this land has been blessed by our Father in Heaven; and it will still be blessed more and more, if we are faithful and humble, and thankful to God for the wheat and the corn, the oats, the fruit, the vegetables, the cattle and everything he bestows upon us, and try to use them for the building up of his Kingdom on the earth (DBY, 483).

We are the pioneers of this country (DBY, 474).

We printed the first papers, except about two, set out the first orchards, raised the first wheat, kept almost the first schools, and made the first improvements in our pioneering, in a great measure, from the Mississippi river to the Pacific Ocean; and here we got at last, so as to be out of the way of everybody, if possible. We thought we would get as far as we could from the face of man; we wanted to get to a strange land, like Abraham, that we might be where we should not be continually wrong with somebody or other (DBY, 476).

We wish strangers to understand that we did not come here out of choice, but because we were obliged to go somewhere, and this was the best place we could find. It was impossible for any person to live here unless he labored hard and battled and fought against the elements, but it was a first-rate place to raise Latter-day Saints, and we shall be blessed in living here, and shall yet make it like the Garden of Eden; and the Lord Almighty will hedge about his Saints and will defend and preserve them if they will do his will. The only fear I have is that we will not do right; if we do [right] we will be like a city set on a hill, our light will not be hid (DBY, 474).

It is but seven years since we left Nauvoo, and we are now ready to build another temple. I look back upon our labors with pleasure. Here are hundreds and thousands of people that have not had the privileges that some of us have had. Do you ask, what privileges? Why, of running the gauntlet, of passing through the narrows. They have not had the privilege of being robbed and plundered of their property, of being in the midst of mobs and death, as many of us have (DBY, 482).

You inquire if we shall stay in these mountains. I answer yes, as long as we please to do the will of God our Father in Heaven. If we are pleased to turn away from the holy commandments of the Lord Jesus Christ, as ancient Israel did, every man turning to his own way, we shall be scattered and peeled, driven before our enemies and persecuted, until we learn to remember the Lord our God and are willing to walk in his ways (DBY, 483).

Many may inquire, “How long shall we stay here?” We shall stay here just as long as we ought to. “Shall we be driven, when we go?” If we will so live as to be satisfied with ourselves, and will not drive ourselves from our homes we shall never be driven from them. Seek for the best wisdom you can obtain, learn how to apply your labor, build good houses, make fine farms, set out apple, pear, and other fruit trees that will flourish here, also the mountain currant and raspberry bushes, plant strawberry beds, and build up and adorn a beautiful city (DBY, 483–84).

Mark our settlements for six hundred miles in these mountains and then mark the path that we made coming here, building the bridges and making the roads across the prairies, mountains and canyons! We came here penniless in old wagons, our friends … telling us to “take all the provisions you can; for you can get no more! Take all the seed grain you can, for you can get none there!” We did this, and in addition to all this we have gathered all the poor we could, and the Lord has planted us in these valleys, promising that he would hide us up for a little season until his wrath and indignation passed over the nations. Will we trust in the Lord? Yes (DBY, 475).

By the favor of heaven, we have been enabled to surmount all these difficulties, and can assemble here today in the chamber of these mountains, where there are none to make us afraid, far from our persecutors, far from the turmoil and confusion of the old world (DBY, 482).

Suggestions for Study

Conflict in Illinois and the flight of the Saints to the West.

  • To whom did President Young give credit for the plan to move the Saints to the Rocky Mountains and the Salt Lake Valley?

  • What circumstances prompted the exile of the Saints from Illinois? How did President Young know where to lead the Saints?

Recruitment and march of the Mormon Battalion.

  • Why did Church leaders encourage 500 volunteers to join the Mormon Battalion and leave their families at such a critical time in their westward movement?

  • The Mormon Battalion never had to fight in the war because the battle was over by the time they reached their destination. What did the Saints suffer because of the government’s call for a battalion? Why do you think it was important for them to make that sacrifice? What benefits resulted from this experience?

The “camp of the poor” was preserved by the mercies of the Lord.

  • How did the Lord relieve the Saints’ hunger for a time? How has the Lord helped you in times of need?

Brigham Young’s pioneer company of 1847 piloted the way to the Salt Lake Valley.

  • Doctrine and Covenants 136 contains “the Word and Will of the Lord concerning the Camp of Israel in their journeyings to the West” (verse 1). This revelation was given to President Young at Winter Quarters on 14 January 1847. In addition to the organization described in this section, what other counsel was given to the Saints traveling west?

  • What concern did Jim Bridger express to President Young? What was the basis of President Young’s strong response to Mr. Bridger? How have you experienced success that resulted primarily from an exercise of faith?

  • Why did President Young choose to stay in the Rocky Mountains rather than continue into California?

Through faith in God the Saints surmounted their difficulties in the West.

  • In what ways did the Saints seek to find solutions to their poverty?

  • President Young said, “There never has been a land, from the days of Adam until now, that has been blessed more than this land has been blessed by our Father in Heaven.” What is required of the Saints wherever they dwell to ensure a continuation of those blessings? What does it mean to live by faith? What can we do to more completely live by faith in Jesus Christ?

  • What did the Saints accomplish as pioneers of the Rocky Mountains? What can you do to build the Church where you live?

  • President Young made the unusual statement, “Here are hundreds and thousands of people that have not had the privileges that some of us have had. … They have not had the privilege of being robbed and plundered of their property, of being in the midst of mobs and death, as many of us have.” What do you think he meant? Why was the Salt Lake Valley “a first-rate place to raise Latter-day Saints”? How have difficulties blessed your life? What can we do to turn even the most challenging trial into a chance to grow?