Today is a holiday in Utah. We celebrate the arrival of the Mormon pioneers to the Salt Lake Valley on July 24, 1847. This first party led by Brigham Young was called to leave their homes for the third or fourth time- most of them in a matter of hours. Gathering their few meager possessions and loved ones, they willingly left all for a better, more free life. This exodus on the heels of the murder of the prophet Joseph Smith and the extermination order by the governor of Missouri Lilburn W. Boggs calling for the “the Mormons must be treated as enemies, and must be exterminated or driven from the State”. In the country founded by religious pilgrims and Christian ideals they were literally kicked out because of their faith. Making things harder is that the initial party only knew they were heading west – no more. Brigham Young didn’t even have an exact idea of the final destination. While on the way Brigham Young happened upon famed tracker Jim Bridger who discouraged the Great Basin as an eventual landing place for the Saints. Bridger claimed the soil was too salty for crops and the winter’s too frigid. He recommend they move on to California’s more furtile lands. However, Brigham Young knew the Saints needed a place that other’s found undesirable, so the Saints could have the peace and space to prosper. Eventually arriving in the Salt Lake Valley, Brigham and his counselors climbed Emigration canyon and exclaimed by revelation “this is the place”.
The Mormon pioneers continued the exodus until the arrival of the railroad in 1869. While still difficult, most groups traveled without serious problems. This all changed in 1856 when two handcart companies, leaving late, found themselves in the middle of a brutal Wyoming winter. Hundreds died of exposure, fatigue and even despair. Finally, word came to Brigham Young of the suffering and he sent relief parties out immediately- halting all further addresses at the General Conference, which was occurring when he found out. To rally the people Brigham Young said:
“The afternoon meeting will be omitted, for I wish the sisters to go home and prepare to give those who have just arrived a mouthful of something to eat, and to wash them and nurse them up. You know that I would give more for a dish of pudding and milk, or a baked potato and salt, were I in the situation of those who have just come in, than I would for your prayers, though you were to stay here all the afternoon and pray. Prayer is good, but when baked potatoes and pudding and milk are needed, prayer will not supply their place on this occasion; give every duty its proper time and place.”
Even with relief, hundreds died in the Martin and Willie handcart companies. The suffering and sacrifice was great. Here is an emotional video with President Gordon B. Hinckley describing the price that was paid for religious freedom by the pioneers:
I often think- “Could I have done it? Could I have been a pioneer?”. I know that I am a pioneer in some aspects of my life, but I do not physically suffer for my beliefs. Could I do it? The simple answer is- “I don’t know”. I suppose many of the pioneers didn’t know if they could do it before they were forced on the path.
The closest I can come to estimating my physical stamina for my faith is my mission. Compared to the thousands of miles walked by the pioneers, it is nothing, but to me it was a grueling experience. With my foot condition I was in serious pain everyday. Sometimes I handled it well and at other moments I wept in pain. This was one of the many difficulties of a my mission. Why did I keep going? The simple answer is I knew it was true. I wanted to tell the people of Indiana that God does speak to a prophet today, He does love us, the Book of Mormon is true, and His gospel has been restored. This was worth any sacrifice . The few people I was able to teach made all the achy feet seem like a small price to pay (or at least medium price!). I am grateful to my companions for walking slow with me and putting up with my bad days! I wonder if the pioneers had bad days where they complained about their aching feet and muscles? They probably did!
Still, as a group they were amazingly optimistic- even taking time for joyous events while on the trail. When I think of my mission I had tough days when I wanted to give up, and I was certainly not pushed as hard as the pioneers in any way. How did they do it? How did they hold on to their faith so hard that they not only kept walking but danced at night and held concerts to sing the hymns? They even had a band, which preformed along the way. It’s an inspiration!
I hope I can face my small challenges with the same courage, happiness and religious devotion as the pioneers. I challenge all of you to look at their example and with me, try a little harder to serve the Lord each day. This way their legacy will not be wasted or counted for naught.
The pioneer anthem was Come, Come, Ye Saints . Please listen to it and remember the sacrifices they made on this pioneer day!