Chapter 14: Remembering Our Spiritual Heritage

Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Wilford Woodruff, (2011), 134–50


Accounts of the early Latter-day Saints’ sacrifices and faith can inspire us to be more diligent in keeping our covenants and building up the kingdom of God.

From the Life of Wilford Woodruff

In teaching members of the Church, President Wilford Woodruff often repeated accounts of the faith and courage of the early Latter-day Saints. He urged those of his own generation to continue in the faith, and he exhorted the rising generation to follow the example of their forebears—to “keep in mind the toil, the care, and the hardships which [their] fathers endured in laying the foundation of the Zion of our God.”1 He said: “It has been by [God’s] mercies that we have been guided until the present time. The blessings of God have been multiplied upon our heads year after year, and we have had more than we deserve bestowed upon us, and the counsel and instructions given us have been good. I hope that we will be wise, and not let those things pass away as idle tales, but follow them up and be on hand for every thing that is required at our hands.”2

This chapter contains President Woodruff’s accounts of four events that were significant in his personal life and in the history of the Church: (1) Zion’s Camp; (2) fulfilling the Lord’s command to meet at the temple site in Far West, Missouri; (3) healing the sick in Commerce, Illinois, and Montrose, Iowa; and (4) the pioneers’ arrival in the Salt Lake Valley. These accounts are part of the spiritual heritage of every member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Teachings of Wilford Woodruff

Zion’s Camp

In 1833 the Saints of God were driven out of Jackson County, Missouri, by a lawless mob, into Clay County. … Their houses were burned and their property was destroyed, and they were driven, penniless and destitute, across the [Missouri] river. The Council [in that area] called for volunteers to go to Kirtland, a thousand miles distant, to see the Prophet Joseph for counsel to know what to do. Parley P. Pratt, who with his family was now destitute of all earthly means of support, and Lyman Wight, with his wife lying beside a log in the woods, with a babe three days old, and without food, raiment or shelter, volunteered to go to visit the Prophet of God. …

When Elders Pratt and Wight arrived in Kirtland, they told their tale of woe to the Prophet Joseph, who asked the Lord what he should do. The Lord told him to go to and gather up the strength of the Lord’s house, the young men and middle aged, and go up and redeem Zion. … It was the will of God that they should gather up 500 men, but they were not to go with less than 100 [see D&C 103]. The Saints of the Lord gathered up 205 men, most of whom assembled in Kirtland in the spring of 1834. … We were organized into companies of tens with a captain over each, and the Prophet of God led this company of 205 men of Zion’s Camp 1,000 miles.

Zion's camp

Referring to Zion’s Camp, President Woodruff said, “We gained an experience that we never could have gained in any other way.”

… The counsel and the word of the Lord through the prophet of the Lord, and its fulfillment, with our joys and our sorrows in connection with those scenes and events, are engraven upon our hearts as with an iron pen upon a rock, and the history thereof will live through all time and in eternity.3

I was in Zion’s Camp with the Prophet of God. I saw the dealings of God with him. I saw the power of God with him. I saw that he was a Prophet. What was manifest to him by the power of God upon that mission was of great value to me and to all who received his instructions. I will refer to one instance. A short time before we landed in Missouri Joseph called the camp together. He there prophesied unto us, and told us what lay before us. He gave us the reason why chastisement was before us. He says: “You consider me a boy with the rest of you. You have not realized my position before the Lord. But there is a chastisement before this camp.” He told us that this would come upon us because he had not been obeyed in his counsels. In one hour after we landed in Missouri and pitched our tents … , one man began to fall here, another there, and in a few moments we had a dozen of our camp stretched upon blankets with the cholera. The Prophet of God, when he saw this, felt to sympathize with them, and he and Hyrum laid their hands upon Brother Carter, the first man that was taken sick, but as soon as they did it they were seized themselves, and they both had to leave the camp. He said afterwards: “I told you what was coming to pass, and when affliction came I stretched out my hand to stay it, and I came very near falling by it myself.” That mission was very interesting to me.4

As we were drawing near Clay County, Missouri, the inhabitants of Jackson County became very uneasy, and a ferry boat, containing twelve men, crossed the Missouri River to Liberty, Clay County, calling a meeting of the inhabitants in the State House, and made flaming speeches to stir up the people to go out and destroy the Mormon Camp. But the inhabitants of Clay county did not feel disposed to do it. …

However, a mob was raised in Jackson county, of both cavalry and footmen, which crossed the river into Clay county and came down to meet and destroy us. We had camped on the east side of Fishing River, and they there intended to give us battle. We camped by the side of a Baptist meeting-house, under a clear sky, with not a cloud to be seen. As soon as we had got our tents pitched, two men on horseback passed through our camp, uttering terrible oaths. … As they rode east out of the camp, there was a small cloud appeared in the north-west, which began to unroll itself like a scroll, and soon the whole heavens over our heads were lined with a cloud as black as ink. In a short time the lightnings flashed, the thunders rolled, the rain descended in torrents, and sheets of hail fell, some in our own camp about the size of robin’s eggs, which soon covered the earth as with a white mantle. We all had to flee into the meeting-house for protection. The Prophet Joseph was among the last that came in.5

As the Prophet Joseph came in shaking the water from his hat and clothing he said, “Boys, there is some meaning to this. God is in this storm.” We sang praises to God, and lay all night on benches under cover while our enemies were in the pelting storm.6

The river, that we could have crossed almost dryshod when we camped, rose twenty feet, so that no enemy could reach us from the west, and the cavalry, which were on the east, had to flee into a school-house, or any shelter they could get from the large hailstones that fell among them. Their horses were driven by the hail and the storm generally, and scattered many miles through the forest, with their saddles and bridles on, and were not found for many days.7

It was reported that the captain of the company in the schoolhouse said it was a strange thing that they could do nothing against the Mormons but what there must be some hail storm or some other thing to hinder their doing anything, but they did not feel disposed to acknowledge that God was fighting our battles.8

We were thankful that the Lord fought our battles and delivered us, and that our enemies did not attempt to come against us any more.

In the morning following (June 22nd) that revelation was given, at Fishing River, that is recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants, section 105 [see verses 9–14, in which the Lord puts an end to the original mission of Zion’s Camp]. From that date the hearts of the people were softened in Clay County, and we continued our journey into that county, making our final camp … , where we passed through some afflictions in fulfillment of the word of the Lord through the mouth of Joseph the Prophet. …

After tarrying a few days and setting in order the Church in Clay County, the Prophet Joseph returned to Kirtland with those members of Zion’s Camp who had families, but those of us who had not, tarried in Missouri until [we] went abroad to other parts of the nation to preach the Gospel of Christ.9

When the members of Zion’s Camp were called, many of us had never beheld each other’s faces; we were strangers to each other and many had never seen the prophet. We had been scattered abroad, like corn sifted in a sieve, throughout the nation. We were young men, and were called upon in that early day to go up and redeem Zion, and what we had to do we had to do by faith. We assembled together from the various states at Kirtland and went up to redeem Zion, in fulfilment of the commandment of God unto us. God accepted our works as He did the works of Abraham. We accomplished a great deal, though apostates and unbelievers many times asked the question, “What have you done?” We gained an experience that we never could have gained in any other way. We had the privilege of beholding the face of the prophet, and we had the privilege of traveling a thousand miles with him, and seeing the workings of the Spirit of God with him, and the revelations of Jesus Christ unto him and the fulfilment of those revelations.10

The experience [we] obtained in travelling in Zion’s Camp was of more worth than gold, and the history of that camp will be handed down to the last generations of men.11

Fulfilling the Lord’s command to meet at the temple site in Far West, Missouri

Note: On April 26, 1838, the Lord revealed through the Prophet Joseph Smith that the presiding officers of the Church were to begin building a temple in the city of Far West, Missouri (see D&C 115:7–10). He also commanded them to “re-commence laying the foundation” on April 26, 1839, exactly one year from the day this revelation was given (see D&C 115:11). President Wilford Woodruff later explained that this was a commandment to “lay the corner stone of the Temple.”12 On July 8, 1838, the Prophet Joseph petitioned, “Show us thy will, O Lord, concerning the Twelve” (section heading, D&C 118). In response, the Lord revealed that the next spring, members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles would go to England to preach the gospel. The Quorum was to meet at the temple site in Far West on April 26, 1839, to signal the beginning of that mission. They were also to take action so that Elders John Taylor, John E. Page, Wilford Woodruff, and Willard Richards could fill vacancies in the Quorum of the Twelve. (See D&C 118:4–6.)

When the revelation was given [in 1838], all was peace and quietude in Far West, Missouri, the city where most of the Latter-day Saints dwelt; but before the time came for its fulfillment, the Saints of God had been driven out of the State of Missouri into the State of Illinois, under the edict of Governor Boggs; and the Missourians had sworn that if all the other revelations of Joseph Smith were fulfilled, that [one] should not be. It stated the day and the place where the Twelve Apostles should take leave of the Saints, to go on their mission across the great waters, and the mobocrats of Missouri had declared that they would see that it should not be fulfilled. …

When the time drew near for the fulfillment of this commandment of the Lord, Brigham Young was the President of the Twelve Apostles; [Thomas] B. Marsh, who was the senior Apostle, had fallen. Brother Brigham called together those of the Twelve who were then at Quincy, Illinois, to see what their minds would be about going to Far West, to fulfill the revelation. The Prophet Joseph and his brother Hyrum, Sidney Rigdon, Lyman Wight and Parley P. Pratt were in prison in Missouri, at that time; but Father Joseph Smith [Sr.], the Patriarch, was at Quincy, Illinois. He and others who were present did not think it wisdom for us to attempt the journey, as our lives would be in great jeopardy. They thought the Lord would take the will for the deed. But when President Young asked the Twelve what our feelings were upon the subject, we all of us, as the voice of one man, said the Lord God had spoken, and it was for us to obey. It was the Lord’s business to take care of his servants, and we would fulfill the commandment, or die trying.

To fully understand the risk the Twelve Apostles ran in making this journey my readers should remember that Lilburn W. Boggs, governor of the State of Missouri, had issued a proclamation, in which all the Latter-day Saints were required to leave that State or be exterminated. Far West had been captured by the militia, who were really only an organized mob; the citizens had been compelled to give up their arms; all the [Church’s] leading men who could be got hold of had been taken prisoners; the rest of the Saints—men, women and children—had to flee as best they could out of the State to save their lives, leaving all their houses, lands and other property which they could not carry with them, to be taken by the mob. In fact, they shot down the cattle and hogs of the Saints wherever they could find them, and robbed them of nearly everything they could lay their hands upon. Latter-day Saints were treated with merciless cruelty and had to endure the most outrageous abuses. It was with the greatest difficulty that many of them got out of the State, especially the prominent men; for there were many men of that State at that time, who acted as though they thought it no more harm to shoot a “Mormon” than a mad dog. …

Having determined to carry out the requirement of the revelation, … we started for Far West. …

On the morning of the 26th of April, 1839, notwithstanding the threats of our enemies that the revelation which was to be fulfilled this day should not be, and notwithstanding that ten thousand of the Saints had been driven out of the State by the edict of the governor, and though the Prophet Joseph and his brother, Hyrum Smith, with other leading men were in the hands of our enemies, in chains and in prison, we moved on to the temple ground in the city of Far West, and held a council, and fulfilled the revelation and commandment given unto us, and we performed many other things at this council. …

Temple site in Far West

The temple site in Far West, Missouri, where members of the Quorum of the Twelve met on April 26, 1839, in obedience to the Lord’s command.

Bidding good-by to the small remnant of Saints who remained on the temple ground to see us fulfill the revelation and commandments of God, we turned our back on Far West and Missouri, and returned to Illinois. We had accomplished the mission without a dog moving his tongue at us [see Exodus 11:7], or any man saying, “Why do you so?”

We crossed the Mississippi River on the steam ferry, entered Quincy on the 2nd of May, and all had the joy of reaching our families once more in peace and safety.13

Healing the sick in Commerce, Illinois, and Montrose, Iowa

Before starting on our mission to England [in 1839], we were under the necessity of settling our families. A place called Commerce, afterwards named Nauvoo, was selected as the place at which our people should settle.

I left Quincy, in company with brother Brigham Young and our families on the 15th of May, and arrived in Commerce [on] the 18th. After an interview with Joseph we crossed the [Mississippi] river at Montrose, Iowa. President Brigham Young and myself, with our families, occupied one room about fourteen feet square. Finally brother Young obtained another room. … Then brother Orson Pratt and family moved into the same room with myself and family.

While I was living in this cabin in the old barracks, we experienced a day of God’s power with the Prophet Joseph. It was a very sickly time and Joseph had given up his home in Commerce to the sick, and had a tent pitched in his door-yard and was living in that himself. The large number of Saints who had been driven out of Missouri, were flocking into Commerce; but had no homes to go into, and were living in wagons, in tents, and on the ground. Many, therefore, were sick through the exposure they were subjected to. Brother Joseph had waited on the sick, until he was worn out and nearly sick himself.

Joseph healing the sick

On July 22, 1839, the Prophet Joseph Smith went among the sick in Commerce, Illinois, and Montrose, Iowa, healing them by the power of the priesthood.

On the morning of the 22nd of July, 1839, he arose reflecting upon the situation of the Saints of God in their persecutions and afflictions, and he called upon the Lord in prayer, and the power of God rested upon him mightily, and as Jesus healed the sick around him in his day, so Joseph, the Prophet of God, healed all around on this occasion. He healed all in his house and door-yard; then, in company with Sidney Rigdon and several of the Twelve, he went through among the sick lying on the bank of the river, and he commanded them in a loud voice, in the name of Jesus Christ, to come up and be made whole, and they were all healed. When he had healed all that were sick on the east side of the river, they crossed the Mississippi River in a ferry boat to the west side, to Montrose, where we were. The first house they went into was President Brigham Young’s. He was sick on his bed at the time. The Prophet went into his house and healed him, and they all came out together. As they were passing by my door, brother Joseph said: “Brother Woodruff, follow me.” These were the only words spoken by any of the company from the time they left brother Brigham’s house till we crossed the public square, and entered brother [Elijah] Fordham’s house. Brother Fordham had been dying for an hour, and we expected each minute would be his last.

I felt the power of God that was overwhelming his Prophet.

When we entered the house, brother Joseph walked up to brother Fordham, and took him by the right hand; in his left hand he held his hat.

He saw that brother Fordham’s eyes were glazed, and that he was speechless and unconscious.

After taking hold of his hand, he looked down into the dying man’s face and said: “Brother Fordham, do you not know me?” At first he made no reply; but we could all see the effect of the Spirit of God resting upon him.

He again said: “Elijah, do you not know me?”

With a low whisper, brother Fordham answered, “yes!”

The Prophet then said, “Have you not faith to be healed?”

The answer, which was a little plainer than before, was: “I am afraid it is too late. If you had come sooner, I think it might have been.”

He had the appearance of a man awaking from sleep. It was the sleep of death.

Joseph then said: “Do you not believe that Jesus is the Christ?”

“I do, brother Joseph,” was the response.

Then the Prophet of God spoke with a loud voice, as in the majesty of the Godhead: “Elijah, I command you, in the name of Jesus of Nazareth, to arise and be made whole!”

The words of the Prophet were not like the words of man, but like the voice of God. It seemed to me that the house shook from its foundation.

Elijah Fordham leaped from his bed like a man raised from the dead. A healthy color came to his face, and life was manifested in every act.

His feet were done up in … poultices. He kicked them off his feet, scattering the contents, and then called for his clothes and put them on. He asked for a bowl of bread and milk, and ate it; then put on his hat and followed us into the street, to visit others who were sick.

The unbeliever may ask: “Was there not deception in this?”

If there is any deception in the mind of the unbeliever, there was certainly none with Elijah Fordham, the dying man, nor with those who were present with him, for in a few minutes more he would have been in the spirit world, had he not been rescued. …

As soon as we left brother Fordham’s house, we went into the house of Joseph B. Noble, who was very low and dangerously sick. When we entered the house, brother Joseph took him by the hand, and commanded him, in the name of Jesus Christ, to arise and be made whole. He did arise and was immediately healed.

While this was going on, the wicked mob in the place … had become alarmed, and followed us into brother Noble’s house.

Before they arrived there, brother Joseph had called upon brother Fordham to offer prayer.

While he was praying, the mob entered, with all the evil spirits accompanying them.

As soon as they entered, brother Fordham, who was praying, fainted and sank to the floor.

When Joseph saw the mob in the house, he arose and had the room cleared of both that class of men and their attendant devils. Then brother Fordham immediately revived and finished his prayer.

This shows what power evil spirits have upon the tabernacles of men. The Saints are only saved from the power of the devil by the power of God.

This case of Brother Noble’s was the last one of healing upon that day. It was the greatest day for the manifestation of the power of God through the gift of healing since the organization of the Church.14

The pioneers’ arrival in the Salt Lake Valley

Note: In April 1834, Wilford Woodruff heard the Prophet Joseph Smith prophesy: “There will be tens of thousands of Latter-day Saints who will be gathered in the Rocky Mountains, and there they will open the door for the establishing of the Gospel among the Lamanites, who will receive the Gospel and their endowments and the blessings of God. This people will go into the Rocky Mountains; they will there build temples to the Most High.”15 In fulfillment of this prophecy, the Saints began to settle in the Salt Lake Valley 13 years later, after being persecuted and driven from place to place. Elder Woodruff, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, was part of the first pioneer company that traveled to their new promised land, leaving Winter Quarters, Nebraska, in April 1847 and arriving in the Salt Lake Valley in July 1847.

On the 22nd [of July 1847] Orson Pratt, [George] A. Smith and seven others rode into the valley, leaving their camp to follow and work the road. President Young being sick, I was carrying him on a bed made up in my carriage, and we camped with the main body of the company. …

On the 24th, I drove my carriage, with President Young lying on a bed in it, into the open valley, the rest of the company following. When we came out of the canyon into full view of the valley, I turned the side of my carriage around, open to the west, and President Young arose from his bed and took a survey of the country. While gazing upon the scene before us, he was enwrapped in vision for several minutes. He had seen the valley before in vision, and upon this occasion he saw the future glory of Zion and of Israel, as they would be, planted in the valleys of these mountains. When the vision had passed, he said, “It is enough. This is the right place. Drive on.” So I drove to the encampment already formed by those who had come along in advance of us.

When we arrived on the ground, the brethren had commenced plowing. I had brought a bushel of potatoes with me, and I resolved that I would neither eat nor drink until I had planted them. I got them into the ground by 1 o’clock, and these, with the potatoes that the other brethren had planted, became the foundation for the future potato crops of Utah.

In the evening, in company with Heber C. Kimball, [George] A. Smith and E. T. Benson, I rode up City Creek [Canyon] to look for timber. While there we had a thunder shower, and the rain reached nearly over the whole valley. …

In the morning of the 28th, … President Young held a council with the Twelve, and took a walk above our encampment. He then stopped, stuck his cane down, and said, “Here will be the Temple of our God.” This was about the centre of the site of the [Salt Lake] Temple.16

God has blessed us, he has blessed the earth, and our labors in the tilling of the soil have been greatly prospered. … It was barren, desolate, abounding with grasshoppers, crickets and coyote wolves, and these things seemed to be the only natural productions of the soil. We went to work by faith, not much by sight, to cultivate the earth. We broke almost all the plows we had the first day. We had to let streams of water out to moisten the earth, and by experience we had to learn to raise anything. The stranger comes into Salt Lake City and sees our orchards, and the trees in our streets, and he thinks, what a fruitful and delightful place it is. He does not think that, for twenty or twenty-four years, almost every tree he beholds, according to its age, has had to be watered twice a week through the whole summer season, or they would all have been dead long since. We have had to unite upon these things, the Lord has blessed our labors, and his mercies have been over this people.17

In the pioneer journey, coming here [to the Salt Lake Valley], we had to come by faith; we knew nothing about this country, but we intended to come to the mountains. Joseph had organized a company to come here, before his death. He had these things before him, and understood them perfectly. God had revealed to him the future of this Church and Kingdom, and had told him, from time to time, that the work of which he was laying the foundation would become an everlasting kingdom—would remain forever. President Young led the pioneers to this country. He had faith to believe that the Lord would sustain us. All who travelled hither at that time had this faith. The Spirit of God was with us, the Holy Ghost was with us; and the Angels of the Lord were with us and we were blessed. All, and more than we anticipated, in coming here, has been realized, as far as time would permit.18

We, as pioneers and as the people of God, are fulfilling prophecy and making history. … Our whole life, history and travels have been pointed out by the ancient prophets. As the Pioneers came into this barren desert, and the Saints have followed them to fulfil the prophecies to make the desert blossom as the rose [see Isaiah 35:1], to sow our grain beside all small streams and still waters, and to use the fir, the pine, and the box [tree], to beautify the place of God’s sanctuary, and to make the place of his feet glorious [see Isaiah 60:13], … let us magnify our calling and build up the Zion and kingdom of God until it is perfected before the heavens and the earth, and not disappoint those who sent us, nor those who have seen us by vision and revelation, but let us finish and fulfil our destiny to the satisfaction of our Heavenly Father, his angels, and all good men.19

Suggestions for Study and Teaching

Consider these ideas as you study the chapter or as you prepare to teach. For additional help, see pages v–ix.

  • Review President Woodruff’s comments on page 134. Why should we learn about the early Latter-day Saints? How can we ensure that their stories do not “pass away as idle tales”? How can we preserve accounts from the lives of our own ancestors?

  • In what ways did Wilford Woodruff benefit from his experiences in Zion’s Camp? (See pages 135–38.) How do you think these experiences helped him prepare to lead the Church later in his life? In what ways have your experiences helped you prepare to serve?

  • Why did members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles feel they should go to the temple site in Far West, Missouri? (See pages 139–41.) What can we learn from this account?

  • What do you learn from the story about the healing of Elijah Fordham and others? (See pages 142–45.) How can this account help Melchizedek Priesthood holders when they prepare to administer to the sick?

  • What does the pioneer journey to the Salt Lake Valley teach about faith? What other principles of the gospel do you see in the lives of these early pioneers? (See pages 146–48.)

  • Who are some modern-day pioneers in your family? in your community or nation? What have these people done that makes them pioneers?

  • In what ways do all members of the Church share the spiritual heritage of the early Latter-day Saints?

Related Scriptures: James 5:14–15; Alma 15:1–12; Ether 12:6; D&C 42:44–48; 103; 105; 115; 118; 136

Show References

    Notes

  1.   1.

    “A Pioneer Address,” Millennial Star, September 3, 1888, 563.

  2.   2.

    In Journal of Discourses, 9:223.

  3.   3.

    Deseret News: Semi-Weekly, July 27, 1880, 2.

  4.   4.

    In Conference Report, April 1898, 29–30.

  5.   5.

    Deseret News: Semi-Weekly, July 27, 1880, 2.

  6.   6.

    In History of the Church, 2:104, footnote.

  7.   7.

    Deseret News: Semi-Weekly, July 27, 1880, 2.

  8.   8.

    In History of the Church, 2:104, footnote.

  9.   9.

    Deseret News: Semi-Weekly, July 27, 1880, 2.

  10.   10.

    The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, sel. G. Homer Durham (1946), 305.

  11.   11.

    Deseret News: Semi-Weekly, July 27, 1880, 2.

  12.   12.

    Deseret News: Semi-Weekly, December 21, 1869, 1.

  13.   13.

    “Leaves from My Journal,” Millennial Star, October 10, 1881, 645–47.

  14.   14.

    “Leaves from My Journal,” Millennial Star, October 10 and 17, 1881, 647, 669–71.

  15.   15.

    Quoted by Wilford Woodruff in Conference Report, April 1898, 57.

  16.   16.

    Deseret News: Semi-Weekly, July 27, 1880, 2.

  17.   17.

    Deseret News, May 22, 1872, 216.

  18.   18.

    Deseret News: Semi-Weekly, December 21, 1869, 1.

  19.   19.

    Deseret News: Semi-Weekly, July 27, 1880, 2–3.