The Barren Rock
They called themselves the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The world called them the Mormons, after the Book of Mormon, which their founder Joseph Smith said he had translated from a set of golden plates he had been divinely guided to discover. The book said that Jesus Christ had preached in America after the Resurrection and would return when a new true church was established.
Everywhere they went, the Mormons gathered converts. And everywhere they went, they made enemies.
we were of the world, I believe that the people... would love us well
enough to let us remain somewhere in the state. But they hate us, despise
us, and persecute us, and when they kill us they verily think they do
Angry mobs, who considered them heretics, drove the Mormons from New York, then Ohio, and then Missouri, where the governor himself ordered them to leave the state, or be "exterminated."
In Illinois, Joseph Smith bought a small settlement, re-named it Nauvoo and turned it into the second-biggest city in the state. He started work on a great temple, outfitted his own private army, began to practice polygamy in secret, and announced he was running for President of the United States. When Smith destroyed the printing press of a man who dared criticize him, he was jailed -- and then murdered by an anti-Mormon mob. Unless they abandoned Illinois, his followers were told, the same fate awaited them.
face a crisis of extraordinary and thrilling interests... the exodus of
the nation of the only true Israel from these United States to a far distant
region of the West.... Wake up, wake up, dear brethren... to the present
glorious emergency in which the God of heaven has placed you to prove
your faith by your works.
Now the Mormons pinned their hopes on a big Vermont-born carpenter named Brigham Young, one of the church's twelve apostles. He had read explorers' reports of the Valley of the Great Salt Lake and saw it as a perfect sanctuary for his Saints -- sheltered by the Wasatch Mountains, beyond the boundaries of the United States. He would take his people there.
Young's been called an American Moses, and I think that's pretty accurate.
He took a persecuted religious sect, and he took them into the wilderness
and built a new place for them to live in the desert. And in going through
these trials as they went to the West, it made the Mormons see themselves
as divinely separated from everyone else and divinely protected. And Brigham
Young was the one who made that happen."
In early 1846, some ten thousand Latter-day Saints began leaving Illinois for the West. By winter, they had reached the west bank of the Missouri River -- but they were still nearly 1,000 miles from their destination. There, they built a makeshift town they called Winter Quarters, where 700 of them died in the bitter cold.
The next spring, Brigham Young himself led forth a small group to select the site on which all would settle. He called it the "Pioneer Band." In late July, they got their first glimpse of the Valley of the Great Salt Lake.
gazed with wonder and admiration upon the vast, rich, fertile valley...
the grandest and most sublime scenery probably that could be obtained
on the globe. We contemplated that in not many years, the valleys would
be converted into orchard, vineyard, gardens and fields by the inhabitants
We have traveled fifteen hundred miles to get here, and I would willingly travel a thousand miles farther to get where it looked as though a white man could live.
Mormon people were looking for isolation where they could practice their
spiritual beliefs freely. And when they stepped foot into the Great Basin
they found the isolation they were looking for. You can imagine Great
Salt Lake, seeing this huge body of water and dipping down with cupped
hands for a drink of refreshment only to be repulsed. I think that appealed
to the Mormons because no one else would bother them."
Their very first day in the valley, the Mormons dug a fresh-water irrigation ditch and started planting potatoes. And soon, Brigham Young was pacing off the streets and squares of the great city he planned to build in the desert.
have been thrown like a stone from a sling, and we have lodged in the
godly place where the Lord wants his people to gather... If the Lord should
say by his revelation this is the spot, the Saints would be satisfied
if it was a barren rock.
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