Starting in 1847, in one of the most monumental feats of modern time, the Latter-day Saints, led by their prophet Brigham Young, crossed the 1,300-mile stretch of wilderness of the American continent to establish a city where they could worship God in the way they desired. The willingness of these early Saints to leave behind their homes and newly completed temple in Nauvoo continues to serve as an inspiration and example for us now as we choose to live our lives committed to following the prophet.
On July 24, 1847, while suffering from mountain fever, Brigham Young saw the Salt Lake Valley for the first time. Wilford Woodruff, who accompanied the prophet, recalled his words to be, “This is the right place, drive on.” By December of 1847, nearly 2,000 pioneers were already in the valley. And before the railroad was completed in 1869, making travel easier, a total of 80,000 pioneers had made the trip by wagon, pulling handcarts, and on foot.
While serving in the Quorum of the Twelve, President James E. Faust said, “How can we pay our debt of gratitude for the heritage of faith demonstrated by pioneers in many lands across the earth who struggled and sacrificed so that the gospel might take root? How is thankfulness expressed for the intrepid handcart pioneers who, by their own brute strength, pulled their meager belongings in handcarts across the scorching plains and through the snows of the high mountain passes to escape persecution and find peaceful worship in these valleys? How can the debt of gratitude possibly be paid by the descendants of the Martin and the Willie and the other handcart companies for the faith of their forebears? … The descendants of these pioneers can partially settle the account by being true to the cause for which their ancestors suffered so much to be part of” (Ensign, May 1990, 87).