Chapter 11: Pioneering the
by Gordon B. Hinckley
TWO hours after the arrival of the main body of pioneers
the first plowing in the Salt Lake Valley was undertaken. But the ground was
so dry and hard that the plows were broken: Then one of the canyon streams
was diverted, the soil was soaked, and the plowing thereafter was easier. On
July 24 potatoes were planted and the ground watered. This was the beginning
of irrigation by Anglo-Saxon people. In fact, it marked the beginning of
modern irrigation practice.
Other seed also was planted. There was small chance that a
crop of any consequence might mature, but it was hoped that at least enough
to reproduce the seed would develop, and thus they would have seed for the
Brigham Young arrived on Saturday. On the following day
the people met for worship, and in addition they received a statement of the
policies that were to prevail in the new colony. President Young declared:
No work shall be done on Sunday. If you do, you will
lose five times as much as you will gain. None must hunt on that day . . .
No man who has come here should try to buy land, as there is none for sale.
But every man shall have his land measured out to him for city and farming
purposes. He may till it as he pleases, but he must be industrious and take
care of it. There is to be no private ownership of streams of water; and
wood and timber shall be regarded as common property. Also, I wish to advise
you to use only the dead timber for fuel, in order to save the live timber
for future use. Walk faithfully in the light of these laws and you will be a
The First Winter
The next day everyone was busy exploring the surrounding
country to learn of its resources. Though their faith was strong and their
hopes high, the situation in which these people found themselves was
anything but encouraging. They were a small group with scant provisions,
located a thousand miles from the nearest settlement to the east and seven
hundred miles from the Pacific Coast. They were unfamiliar with the
resources of this strange new land, which was untried and different in its
nature from that which they had left.
Yet they began preparations for an extensive city. Marking
a site in the desert soil, Brigham Young proclaimed, "Here we will build a
temple to our God." The city was then platted around this, with streets 132
feet wide. Such width was considered foolish in those days, but the
foresight in this action has become evident with modern traffic. The
projected community was named Great Salt Lake City.
One thing that caught the fancy of the pioneers as they
explored the valley was the similarity between this new-found Zion and the
Holy Land. Twenty-five miles south of their camp was a beautitiful fresh
water lake with a river running from this to another Dead Sea. They named
the river Jordan.
Once policies and plans had been decided, Brigham Young
and others began the long journey back to Winter Quarters. Those remaining
in the valley immediately commenced construction of a fort in which to house
themselves as well as the large company expected later in the summer. Most
of the families spent the first winter in the fort, although there were a
few who ventured to build homes of their own.
Fortunately, that first winter was unusually mild.
Nevertheless the colonists suffered. Food was poor and scarce, as was
clothing. Sego roots were dug and thistle tops were boiled for food. In
remembrance of the part it played in sustaining life the sego lily is today
Utah's state flower.
No time was wasted in preparing for the future. All
through the winter the task of fencing and clearing the land progressed. A
common field of five thousand acres was plowed and planted. This was a
tremendous accomplishment, considering the tools these people had.
The Coming of the Gulls
In the spring wide fields of green grain appeared to be
ample reward for the labors of the previous fall and winter. Now, these
people thought, there would be plenty to eat, both for themselves and for
the large number of immigrants expected that summer. Under irrigation the
crops flourished and the future looked bright.
Then one day it was noticed that large crickets were
eating the grain. These had been seen by the first men to enter the valley,
and the new-comers had noted that some of the natives used them for food.
But they had expected nothing of this kind. Each day the situation grew
worse. The insects came in myriads, devouring everything before them.
Terror struck into the hearts of the people as they saw
their grain fall before this foe. With all their strength they fought them.
They tried burning and drowning. They tried beating them with shovels and
brooms. They tried every means they could devise to stem the tide. Still the
voracious insects came, eating every stalk of green before them.
Exhausted and in desperation the Saints turned to the
Lord, pleading in prayer for preservation of bread for their children.
Then to their amazement they saw great flocks of
white-winged sea gulls which flew from over the lake to the west and settled
on the fields. At first the people thought this was a new foe coming to
scourge them. But the gulls went after the crickets, devouring them, then
flying away and disgorging only to return for more.
The crops of 1848 were saved, and on Temple Square in Salt
Lake City stands a monument to the sea gull. In bronze it bears the
inscription, "Erected in grateful remembrance of the mercy of God to the
Gold in California
Brigham Young arrived back at Winter Quarters on October
31, 1847. On the following December 5 he was sustained as President of the
Church. From the time of Joseph Smith's death, Brigham had led the Church in
his capacity as President of the Council of Twelve Apostles. He named as his
counselors in the First Presidency, Heber C. Kimball who had come into the
Church with him, and Dr. Willard Richards.
On May 26, 1848 he left Winter Quarters, never again to
return to the East. While he now knew the way, this second journey was more
difficult than had been the pioneer trip. The company of which he was leader
"included 397 wagons with 1229 souls, 74 horses, 19 mules, 1275 oxen, 699
cows, 184 cattle, 411 sheep, 141 pigs, 605 chickens, 37 cats, 82 dogs, 3
goats, 10 geese, 2 beehives, 8 doves and 1 crow." It was no small task to
shepherd such a caravan over a thousand miles of prairie and mountains.
They reached the valley on October 20, 116 days after
their departure from Winter Quarters. Meanwhile something had happened in
California which had set a fire in the hearts of the adventurous the world
over and which was to have its effect on the Mormons. Gold had been
After the Mormon Battalion had been mustered out in
California, some of the Battalion men stopped at Sutter's Fort in the
Sacramento Valley to work and earn a little money before crossing the
mountains to rejoin their families. Six of them, with Sutter's foreman,
James W. Marshall, and some Indians, undertook the construction of a sawmill
on the south fork of the American River. There, on January 24, 1848,
Marshall picked some gold out of the sand in the mill race. Henry Bigler,
one of the Battalion men, wrote in his journal that night: "This day some
kind of metal was found in the tail race that looks like gold."
That historic entry is the only original documentation of
the discovery that sent men rushing over land and sea to California.
But while others were rushing to the American River, the
Battalion men completed their contract with Sutter, gathered together what
possessions they had, and made their way east over the mountains to the
semi-arid valley of Great Salt Lake, there to undertake with their friends
the painful labor of subduing the wilderness.
Meanwhile, the gold fever had infected some of those in
the valley who had just passed through a difficult winter. Speaking of this
Brigham Young said:
Some have asked me about going. I told them that God
appointed this place for the gathering of his saints, and you will do better
right here than you will by going to the gold mines . . . Those who stop
here and are faithful to God and his people will make more money and get
richer than you that run after the god of this world; and I promise you in
the name of the Lord that many of you that go thinking you will get rich and
come back, will wish you had never gone away from here, and will long to
come back, but will not be able to do so. Some of you will come back, but
your friends who remain here will have to help you; and the rest of you who
are spared to return will not make as much money as your brethren do who
stay here and help build up the Church and Kingdom of God; they will prosper
and be able to buy you twice over. Here is the place God has appointed for
. . . 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 cities and
our settlements to the east and the west, to the north and to the south, and
we will build towns and cities by the hundreds, and thousands of the Saints
will gather from the nations of the earth. This will become the great
highway of the nations. Kings and emperors and the noble and wise of the
earth will visit us here, while the wicked and ungodly will envy us our
comfortable homes and possessions. Take courage, brethren . . . Plow your
land and sow wheat, plant your potatoes . . . The worst fear that I have
about this people is that they will get rich in this country, forget God and
his people, wax fat, and kick themselves out of the Church and go to hell.
This people will stand mobbing, robbing, poverty and all manner of
persecution, and be true. But my greater fear for them is that they cannot
stand wealth; and yet they have to be tried with riches, for they will
become the richest people on this earth.
Before the close of the year 1848 the population of the
valley had reached five thousand. A heavy influx of immigrants seriously
taxed the resources of the community. Hunger and hardship were common that
winter, and these circumstances added to the discouragement of many. In the
midst of these trying conditions Heber C. Kimball, speaking before the
people in one of their meetings, prophesied that in less than one year there
would be plenty of clothing and other needed articles sold on the streets of
Salt Lake City for less than in New York or St. Louis.
Such a situation was incredible, but Brigham Young said of
the statement, "Let it stand." The fulfillment of that prophecy came about
in remarkable fashion.
Thinking to get rich with the sale of goods in California,
eastern merchants had loaded great wagon trains with clothing, tools, and
other items for which there would be demand at the gold diggings. But on
reaching Salt Lake City they learned that competitors had beaten them by
shipping around the Cape.
Their only interest then was to unload what they had for
what price they could get, and go on to California as quickly as possible.
Auctions were held from their wagons on the streets of Salt Lake City. Cloth
and clothing sold for less than they could be bought for in New York. Badly
needed tools could be had for less than in St. Louis. Fine teams, jaded from
the long journey, were eagerly traded for the fatter but less valuable stock
of the Mormons. Good, heavy wagons, in great demand in the mountain colony,
were traded for lighter vehicles with which the gold seekers could make
Glad Tidings to the World
While eager men were traveling over land and sea to search
for gold, the Mormons also sent eager men out over land and sea—in search of
souls. Missionaries were sent to the Eastern States, to Canada and to the
British Isles. In spite of shocking prejudices which moved before them, they
made substantial headway. When Franklin D. Richards went to England in 1847
to take over the presidency of the mission in that land, his predecessor,
Parley P. Pratt, announced that during the two and a half years that he had
been there, twenty-one thousand souls had been baptized into the Church.
Missionary work in France and Italy was not so fruitful,
although some converts were made. In the Scandinavian countries the elders
were mobbed and jailed, but a spirit of tolerance gradually strengthened,
and thousands of converts were made in those lands.
These preachers, traveling without purse or scrip, went to
Malta, to India, to Chile and to the Islands of the Pacific. Almost
everywhere they encountered hatred and the cries of the mob. But in all of
these lands they found a few who were receptive to their message.
Once baptized, these converts desired almost invariably to
"gather" with others of their faith in the valleys of the Rockies—Zion, they
called it. And once here, differences of language and customs were soon lost
sight of as men and women from many lands worked together in the building of
Zion Spreads Her Branches
It was inevitable that the boundaries of the Church should
extend beyond the valley of Salt Lake. With thousands of converts coming
from the nations, other settlements were founded. At first these were rather
close to the mother colony, but soon wagon trains were moving north and
south toward the distant valleys. By the close of the third year settlements
extended two hundred miles to the south. By the end of the fourth year
colonies were found over a distance of three hundred miles. Then in 1851
five hundred of the Saints were called to go to southern California to plant
a colony. They there laid the foundations of San Bernardino.
In nearly every case this pioneering entailed great
sacrifice. Families were often called to leave their comfortable homes and
cultivated fields and go into the wilderness to begin over again. But
through their efforts hundreds of colonies were planted over a vast section
of the West. Of the extent of this colonization James H. McClintock, Arizona
State Historian, wrote:
It is a fact little appreciated that the Mormons have
been first in agricultural colonization of nearly all the intermountain
states of today . . . Not drawn by visions of wealth, unless they looked
forward to celestial mansions, they sought, particularly, valleys wherein
peace and plenty could be secured by labor . . .
First of the faith on the western slopes of the
continent was the settlement at San Francisco by Mormons from the ship
Brooklyn. They landed July 21, 1846, to found the first English speaking
community of the Golden State, theretofore Mexican. These Mormons
established the farming community of New Helvetia, in the San Joaquin
Valley, the same fall, while men from the Mormon Battalion, January 24,
1848, participated in the discovery of gold at Sutter's Fort. Mormons also
were pioneers in Southern California, where in 1851, several hundred
families of the faith settled at San Bernardino.
The first Anglo-Saxon settlement within the boundaries
of the present state of Colorado was at Pueblo, November 15, 1846, by Capt.
James Brown and about 150 Mormon men and women who had been sent back from
New Mexico, into which they had gone, a part of the Mormon Battalion that
marched on to the Pacific Coast.
The first American settlement in Nevada was one of the
Mormons in the Carson Valley, at Genoa, in 1851.
In Wyoming, as early as 1854, was a Mormon settlement at
Green River, near Fort Bridger, known as Fort Supply.
In Idaho, too, preeminence is claimed by virtue of a
Mormon settlement at Fort Lemhi, on the Salmon River, in 1855, and at
Franklin, in Cache Valley, in 1860.
. . . In honorable place in point of seniority [in the
settlement of Arizona] are to be noted the Mormon settlements on the Muddy
and the Virgin.
Speaking of the quality of their pioneering, F. S.
Dellenbaugh, great student of the settlement of the West, wrote:
It must be acknowledged that the Mormons were wilderness
breakers of high quality. They not only broke it, but they kept it broken;
and instead of the gin mill and the gambling hell, as cornerstones of their
progress and as examples to the natives of the white men's superiority, they
planted orchards, gardens, farms, schoolhouses, and peaceful homes.