- Historic Sites
“here Is My Home At Last!”
When Brigham Young’s party abandoned Illinois to seek a final refuge for the Latter-day Saints, none knew where they would come to rest. But as they entered Salt Lake Valley, they were sure that the long quest was over
February 1963 | Volume 14, Issue 2
After Joseph and Hyrum Smith were murdered by an anti-Mormon mob at Carthage, Illinois, on June 27, 1844, great contention arose among the Latter-day Saints as to who would succeed Joseph as head of the Church. At a vast meeting beside the unfinished temple on August 8, Sidney Rigdon urged that he be made Church guardian, claiming that he had received a revelation from on high that this should be his office. A little later a sturdy figure rose from the audience and spoke for himself. Not as tall as Joseph Smith, Brigham Young was nevertheless of commanding presence. He proclaimed himself a dedicated follower of the Prophet, and he spoke with a sincerity and practicality which made Rigdon seem both small and pretentious. He was overwhelmingly sustained as president of the Twelve Apostles, on whom the power of the Church now rested.
Brigham Young had been born four years earlier than Joseph Smith, and in the same state of Vermont. His family had moved to western New York when he was two. As he grew older Brigham devoted his energies to becoming a carpenter and joiner. There are fine houses still standing in New York State (including the home of Lincoln’s Secretary of State, William Henry Seward, at Auburn) that are testimonials to the thoroughness and quality of his craftsmanship.
The young builder was converted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by Mormon neighbors. He did not meet the founder of the faith until 1832, after Joseph had moved to Kirtland, Ohio. At that time Brigham made a pilgrimage for the express purpose of declaring his loyalty and found Joseph in the forest, back of the house where he was living, “chopping and hauling wood.” Thus the originator of the Mormon Church and the man who was to do more than any other member in perpetuating it, both Yankee-born, became known to each other.
The new head of the Latter-day Saints was to prove himself not only an effective administrator but one of the greatest leaders of men in all American history. He spoke the vernacular of his time with exactness of meaning, yet with a touch of poetry. He had an intuitive knowledge of his fellows. He had common sense. He had a kind of down-to-earth spirituality. And he bristled with authority.
Though President Young was aware of the gathering tempest of hatred which was soon to result in the Mormons being driven out of Nauvoo by armed mobs, he insisted that the magnificent temple of which Joseph Smith had dreamed be completed. Before it was finished, however, the decision had been made that the whole body of the Xauvoo Saints would move westward. The first wagons left Nauvoo in February, 1846.
By autumn twelve to fifteen thousand of the Saints had reached the west bank of the Missouri, where they built a temporary city called Winter Quarters. While they waited at this place (the site of Florence, Nebraska, now a residential section of Omaha), they received word that the few remaining Mormons left at Nauvoo had in September been attacked by mobs and after a gallant defense had been driven from the city. A month later, on October 9, vandals burned the temple to the ground (left). As the winter of 1846 set in, President Young and his advisers planned an exploratory expedition which would set out to find a home for the Mormons somewhere in the Far West.
All through the early clays of April, 1847. Brigham Young busied himself at Winter Quarters with getting under way an expedition to find a land in the West where all members of the Church might live safely and in peace.
His first plan had been to enlist twelve groups of twelve men each, but the number fluctuated as the time for departure neared. At the Church conference on April 6 he was upheld as president of the Church, and a do/en of the most important Saints were continued as members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles —among them both Willard Richards and John Taylor, who had been eyewitnesses of the lynching of Prophet Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum in 18.14. There were a few delays as the wagons gathered and the members of the pioneer group reported. By Saturday, April 10, sixty-four wagons were rolling toward the banks of the little Elkhorn River thirty-four miles from Winter Quarters. They crossed Papillion Creek, and as one of the Pioneers, Norton Jacobs, recorded their journey, “Towards evening we hove into sight of the Elk Horn River and the valley of the great Platte, affording a full view of the river as it stretched away for many miles to the west.”
The series of paintings on this and the following pages is taken from a canvas scroll done by the Mormon arlisl Carl Christian Anton Christensen, between 1869 and iStjo. A young missionary for the Latter-day Saints before emigrating from his native Denmark in 1857, Christensen continued to show his zeal by producing a pictorial sequence of important episodes in the history of his church, taking the canvas scroll from town to town in Utah as the basis for a historical lecture.
On Sunday morning all wagons were ferried across the Elkhorn and were counted as sixty-nine. Still there were delays caused by necessary rides back to Winter Quarters for conferences, for more good-bys to families, for brothers who were hurrying from eastern places.