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“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
On the last day of June Samuel Brannan, commander of a group of Mormons who had taken ship for San Francisco by way of the Horn, appeared in camp with news of the brethren he had led and of the Mormon Battalion (500 volunteers who had fought with the Army in Mexico), many of whom were at Pueblo de Los Angeles. He urged President Young to lead the party to the west coast and described with lyric fervor the climate and fertility of California. Barley there had no hull on it. There was no necessity to cultivate oats, for they grew wild. Clover reached as high as a horse’s belly. Wild horses were scattered over the plains. Salmon caught in the San Joaquin River weighed ten or twelve pounds. To all this talk the brethren turned deaf ears. They already mistrusted the shifty Brannan (who was eventually excommunicated), and they were still enchanted by the spell Jim Bridger had cast upon them.
Now that they were within striking distance of their goal, the Mormons were in fine fettle and even inclined to regard with humor the hardships they were enduring. On July 3 Thomas Bullock wrote: “We passed a mosquito manufactory, immense swarms of them,” and WiIford Woodruff wrote, “The mosquitoes have filled my carriage like a cloud.”
Shortly after noon on Sunday, July 4, a detachment of twelve soldiers under command of Sergeant Thomas Williams crossed the Green River (where the expedition had stopped for the night) and rode into camp in strict formation. Williams said with dry humor that they were in pursuit of horse thieves, as indeed they were, but they were immediately recognized as members of the Mormon Battalion. While they were still in line President Young spoke a few words. Cheer after cheer rose from the brethren. Then, according to Thomas Bullock’s account, the President proposed “Glory to God for their safe return,” and all who heard him responded, crying out: “Hosanna! Hosanna! Hosanna! Give Glory to God and the Lamb!”
More soberly Norton Jacobs wrote: “This is Uncle Sam’s day of Independence. Well, we are independent of all the powers of the Gentiles; that is enough for us.”
The next day was hot, the road was dusty. The Pioneers saw a hard shower descending near the mountains and felt a little wind from it. “In this country,” wrote Brother Woodruff, “it rains about the mountains but not much in the valleys and plains.” The units of the train stayed farther apart to avoid the dust. They traveled twenty miles to Black’s Ford, twenty miles of a trail lined by the blossoms of prickly pears, some red, some yellow, and found at the end nine wickiups in a beautiful vale, and horses grazing peacefully beside them. Now each day the country grew richer. Cedars flourished in the woods, pines were tall on the mountains, cottonwood roots dug deep into the shallows of the rivers. That night they halted beside a wide-mouthed cave lined with soft sandstone (Redding Cave) and many of the Pioneers, boylike, cut their names into its walls. The next day they forded Bear River, nooned at Needle Cliff, and as they made their camp at sunsetting, came a few drops of rain “sufficient [wrote Brother George A. Smith] to cause a full-arched rainbow.” The brothers were happy.
But in the wagon of Wilford Woodruff there was worry, even fear. President Young had been stricken by mountain fever. His temperature was so high that those who tended him were concerned for his life. Stops became more frequent. On July 13, after consultation among the leaders, it was decided that Orson Pratt should take twenty-three wagons and forty-two of the most able-bodied men as an advance party to explore and make ready the road through the mountains for the rest of the Pioneers to follow. Among the advance party were many men famous in the history of the church—and also the three Negroes of the lot—Oscar Crosby, Hark Lay, and Green Flake. Three days later the main camp had inched slowly down a steep gulch and stopped for the noon rest, when the long-haired scout Porter Rockwell arrived from the advance band to assure them that their party was nearing the canyons that would lead into the Great Basin.
On either side of the lurching wagons that afternoon the red rock walls towered hundreds of feet. “There is a very singular echo in this ravine,” wrote William Clayton. “The rattling of wagons resembles carpenters hammering at boards inside the highest rocks. The report of a rifle resembles a sharp crack of thunder and echoes from rock to rock for some time. The lowing of cattle and braying of mules seem to be answered behind the mountains.” The playing of band instruments by some of his companions, he added, bounced back from the gulch’s walls in exact duplication. (Today the ravine is called Echo Canyon.)
On the seventeenth President Young’s illness was much worse, and the party moved only three miles. From their campsite at Weber River they could see a group of small towers, “Witches Rocks,” resembling “old factory or furnace chimneys.”
The sun had passed above the amazingly deep defile in which the wagons waited, when a band of the camp elders led by Heber C. Kimball, Willard Richards, and Ezra T. Benson∗ Benson’s great grandson and namesake, the Secretary of Agriculture under President Eisenhower, is a member of the present Council of Twelve of the Mormon Church. presented themselves in their priestly garments “before the Lord.” To Him they offered up their united prayers for their stricken President to be healed, the camp to be prospered, the Saints to be blessed. On their precarious way back to the camp “the brethren amused themselves by rolling big rocks down the hill,” wrote Thomas Bullock, and William Clayton wrote his own description of this curious scene.