When Joseph Smith was about 15 years old there was, in the western part of the State of New York, a considerable excitement upon the subject of religion. The various denominations in that part of the country were stirred up with a spirit of revival. They held protracted meetings and many were converted. At the end of this excitement a scramble ensued as to which of the denominations should have the proselytes.
Of the family of Joseph Smith, his mother, his brothers Hyrum and Samuel, and sister Sophronia, became members of the Presbyterian Church. Joseph reflected much upon the subject of religion, and was astonished at the ill-feeling that seemed to have grown out of the division of the spoils, if we may so use the term, at the close of the reformation. He spent much time in prayer and reflection and in seeking the Lord. He was led to pray upon the subject in consequence of the declaration of the Apostle James: "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God that giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth not." [James, 1st chap., 5th verse.] He sought the Lord by day and by night, and was enlightened by the vision of an holy angel. When this personage appeared to him, one of his first inquiries was, "Which of the denominations of Christians in the vicinity was right?" He was told they had all gone astray, they had wandered into darkness, and that God was about to restore the Gospel in its simplicity and purity to the earth; he was, consequently, directed not to join any one of them, but to be humble and seek the Lord with all his heart, and that from time to time he should be taught and instructed in relation to the right way to serve the Lord.
These visions continued from time to time, and in 1830 he published to the world the translation of the book now known as the "Book of Mormon," and on the 6th of April of that year, having received the authority by special revelation, organized the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which was composed of six members—namely, Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, Hyrum Smith, Peter Whitmer, jun., Samuel H. Smith and David Whitmer.
The family of Joseph Smith were in moderate circumstances. They were very industrious, and had held a respectable position in society; but on this occasion the tongue of slander was pointed at them, and very soon after the organization of the Church, vexatious lawsuits were commenced, and Joseph was arrested and taken before a magistrate and dismissed. He was again arrested and taken to an adjoining county and treated contemptuously, spit upon and insulted in various other ways. His case was investigated and he was again dismissed. This time the mob resolved to treat him to a coat of tar and feathers, from which, however, he was shielded by the officers in whose custody he had been held. It was looked upon, by many in those days, as a species of fun to treat Joseph Smith or the Elders of the Church, wherever they went, in a contemptuous manner. The pulpit and the press almost invariably joined in the outcry against the new Church, and the predictions were that in a few days it would be annihilated.
After a few months a Conference was organized and missionaries started towards the West, Joseph having been commanded, by revelation from the Lord, to establish a gathering place near the western boundary of Missouri. He accordingly sent missionaries in that direction, among whom were Oliver Cowdery and Parley P. Pratt. On their way across the State of Ohio they visited a society known as the Campbellites, led by Sidney Rigdon. They preached to them and baptized Rigdon and about a hundred members of his church, many of whom, and their children, are citizens of this Territory to-day. After this they continued their journey westward to Independence, in the vicinity of Jackson county. Soon after this the Saints who were scattered in various parts of Western New York removed, part to Missouri and part to Kirtland, in Geauga, now Lake, county, Ohio, where they founded a city and built a Temple. In Jackson county, Missouri, they purchased land, built mills, established a printing office, the first one that was established in the western part of the State of Missouri, and opened an extensive mercantile house. They introduced the culture of wheat and many other kinds of grain, for the inhabitants of that locality were principally new settlers, and they cultivated chiefly Indian corn. The Saints also commenced the culture of fruit, and although they came there with little means, the heads of families were generally able to buy from forty acres to a section of land, and in a few months, by their untiring industry, they began to prosper and flourish in a manner almost astonishing.
In about two years, however, they met with opposition; a mob assembled and tore down their printing office, broke open their mercantile house, scattered their goods to the four winds. They also seized their Bishop and presiding Elders, and inflicted upon them personal abuse, such as whipping, and daubing them with tar and feathers, while others were mutilated and killed, which finally resulted, in the month of November, 1833, in the expulsion from the county of Jackson of about fifteen hundred people; about three hundred of their houses were burned to ashes.
During the period of the residence of the Saints in this county there had never been a lawsuit of any description instituted against any of them; if there had been any violation of law amongst them, there were ample means to have had the law enforced, because the officers, both civil and military, were not of their faith. But the real facts of the case were, the Saints were regarded as fanatics; and one of the main points in a declaration published against them was, that they "blasphemously professed to heal the sick with holy oil." In accordance with the instructions of St. James, contained in his epistle, 5th chap. and 14th verse, it has ever been a practice in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from its organization, when any are sick among them, to send for the Elders of the Church to anoint such with oil and pray for them, believing the Apostle James, "that the prayer of faith will save the sick." This item of faith is still practiced in all the branches of the Church, and thousands and tens of thousands bear testimony at the present time of the miraculous healings that have been effected by the power of God through these administrations. Yet at that period it was made a crime, and was one of the principal charges on which the Latter-day Saints were expelled from Jackson county.
From this county the Saints were driven to Clay county, and most of them remained there about three years, during which time they performed a great amount of labor for the people of Clay county, for the inhabitants were mostly new settlers who possessed nothing seemingly in the way of property save Indian corn, hogs and cattle. They hired the Saints to labor, who made brick, built fine houses, and enlarged their farms, erected mills, and, in fact, acquired considerable property by industry in laboring for the people in Clay county. The mob of Jackson county endeavored to stir up the people of Clay against the Saints, which culminated in a request on the part of the people of Clay that the Latter-day Saints would leave. They accordingly hunted out a new county without inhabitants and almost without timber, called Caldwell county, and moved into it, purchasing land and occupying it, of which they were the sole inhabitants. They also spread out into the adjoining new counties, on to the unoccupied land, and purchased and improved it.
From the best of my recollection the Latter-day Saints paid the United States Government some $318,000 for land in the State of Missouri, but yet, in the winter and early spring of 1839, they were expelled from that State, with the entire loss of their lands and improvements and most of their personal property, under an exterminating order from Lilburn W. Boggs, Governor of that State, requiring them to leave under pain of extermination. But they were told that any of them who would renounce their religion would be permitted to stay. The result was that about fifteen thousand persons were expelled from Missouri and their property, to most of which they still hold the titles; and when the day arrives that the Constitution of the United States becomes absolutely the supreme law of the land, so that all men can be protected in their civil and religious rights, they and their children will go back and enjoy their cherished homes in the State of Missouri.
After leaving Missouri they located themselves in the State of Illinois. There was a town known as Commerce—noted for being unhealthy. The location was very beautiful, but the place was surrounded with swamp lands to a considerable extent. Attempts had been made to settle it, but there were a great many graves in the burying ground, and but very few living people in the vicinity. The Saints went there and purchased property. They drained the swamps and cleaned them out, and converted the whole vicinity into gardens, and continued to improve and enlarge the place until February, 1846. The commencement of the settlement in Commerce, Hancock county, Illinois, was in the summer of 1839.
June 27, 1844, Joseph and Hyrum Smith, the Prophet and Patriarch of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, were murdered in Carthage jail, in Hancock county, Illinois, while under the pledge of the Governor, Thos. Ford, who had plighted the faith of the State, at the time of their arrest, that they should be protected from mob violence, and have a fair trial in the lawfully constituted courts of the State. They were confined in jail on a trumped up charge of treason upon the affidavit of a drunken vagabond. They were murdered by about 150 persons with blackened faces, some of them persons of high position in society. I will here say that in all these transactions—I refer to the outrages committed by the mobs on the Latter-day Saints—there never was a single instance of the guilty parties being brought to justice under the laws of the State where the occurrence transpired.
The city of Nauvoo and vicinity had probably about 20,000 inhabitants. They were remarkable for their industry, and the city was conspicuous for peace, quietness and good order, and for the rapid manner in which improvements had been made. They continued to build up the city though they were constantly harassed by mob violence, and warned from time to time that they should be driven away. They finished the Temple, which was one of the most beautiful structures in the Western States, and dedicated it unto the Lord. They were progressing with other large buildings, establishing factories and making many improvements, when the efforts of mobocracy culminated in their expulsion from their beautiful city and Temple.
That they might not act hastily nor unadvisedly, a committee of Latter-day Saints prepared a petition and sent it to the Governor of every State in the Union, except the Governor of Missouri, and also to the President of the United States, asking them for an asylum, and to afford them that protection which was extended to other religious bodies. All the States, except one, treated their application with silence. Governor Drew, of Arkansas, wrote them a respectful letter, in which he advised them to seek a home in Oregon.
Previous to the death of Joseph Smith, he had selected twenty-five men—most of whom now reside here—to explore the Rocky Mountains, with the view of finding a place where they could make a location that would be out of the range and beyond the influence of mobs, where they could enjoy the rights guaranteed to them by the Constitution of our common country. The premature death of Joseph and Hyrum Smith, however, prevented their departure; the result was that, during the year 1845, it devolved upon the Twelve to carry out this design. But in the course of that year the mob broke upon them with more than their usual fury. They commenced by burning the farm-houses in the vicinity of Lima; they burned 175 houses without the least resistance on the part of the inhabitants. The sheriff of Hancock county issued orders for the "citizens who were not Mormons" to turn out and stop the burning; but none obeyed his order. He then issued a proclamation calling upon all, irrespective of sect or party, to turn out and stop the burning. The burning was accordingly stopped, but there was a general outcry against the "Mormons," and immediately nine counties assembled in convention and passed a decree that the "Mormons" should leave the State. Governor Ford said it was impossible to protect the people of Nauvoo. The Hon. Stephen A. Douglas, Gen. John J. Hardin and several other gentlemen repaired thither and made a kind of a treaty with them, in which it was agreed that mob violence and vexatious lawsuits were to cease on condition that the people of Nauvoo would leave the State, and that they would assist the Saints in the disposal of their property. It was also agreed that if a majority would leave, the remainder should be permitted to remain until they, by the sale of their property, were able to get away. The Saints then organized themselves into companies of a hundred families each, and established wagon shops for every fifty. They took the green timber out of the woods and boiled it in brine and made it into wagons. Their supply of iron was very limited, but with what little means they could control they purchased iron, and exhausted the supply of all the towns on the upper Mississippi, and made up the deficiency with raw hide and hickory withes.
On the 6th of February, 1846, the Saints commenced crossing the river. They crossed first on flat boats; but in a few days the river closed up and something like a thousand wagons crossed over on the ice, moving out west into the sparsely settled district on the eastern borders of Iowa; the settlements extending back from fifty to seventy miles. From that point it was a wilderness without roads, bridges, or improvements of any kind. They moved off, however, into this wilderness country in winter, and continued through the spring amid the most terrific storms and suffering from cold and exposure. In their progress to Council Bluffs they bridged thirty or forty streams, among which were the Locust and Medicine rivers, the three forks of the Grand River, the Little Platte, the One Hundred-and-Two, the Nodaway, Big Tarkeo, and the Nishnabatona. Bridging these streams, constructing roads, and breaking and enclosing three large farms required immense labor, which was done for the benefit and sustenance of those who would follow. In consequence of this and the inclemency of the weather they did not arrive at Council Bluffs on the Missouri river until late in June. The wagons and tents were numbered by thousands. The camps were spread out on the prairie for three hundred miles, moving in companies of tens, fifties, and hundreds.
While the advance companies were crossing the Missouri, they, on the 1st of July, were called upon by Captain James Allen, of the United States army, who was the bearer of an order for the enrolment of five hundred volunteers. They could ill be spared in their condition, but the number was made up in a few days and they proceeded on their journey to Fort Leavenworth and thence by way of Santa Fe to California, where they, among a number of our countrymen, were instrumental in adding this large domain to the United States.
The families of the volunteers who formed the battalion, being thus left without protectors, entailed much additional responsibility and labor upon those left behind, and rendered it impossible for the companies to proceed to the Rocky Mountains that season. They encamped at Winter Quarters, the place now called Florence, in the Omaha country, where they built 700 log cabins and 150 caves or dug-outs, in which a great number of the people resided through the winter. Some two thousand wagons were scattered about in the Pottawattamie country, on the east side of the Missouri—a country then uninhabited except by Indians—which, by a treaty of purchase, came into the possession of the United States the ensuing spring.
The winter of 1846-7 was one of great suffering among the people. They had been deprived of vegetable food; their diet, to a great extent, had consisted of corn meal and pork, which they had purchased from the Missourians, in exchange for clothing, beds, jewellery, or any other property that would sell. Yet they had sold comparatively none of their real estate and valuable property; in fact, most of the land remains unsold to this day. Under these circumstances the people suffered a great deal from scurvy; the exposure they had undergone also brought on fever and ague, hence their stay in Winter Quarters and the region round about is a memorable period in their history, from the sufferings, difficulties, and privations with which they had to contend. However, they made the necessary preparations for their departure, and in the spring of 1847—early in April, 143 pioneers, led by Brigham Young, started to explore and make a road to the Great Salt Lake Basin.
There was not a spear of grass that their animals could obtain for the first two hundred miles of the journey, and they had to feed them on the cotton-woods that grew on the banks of the Platte river and other small streams. In this manner the pioneers worked their way, making the road as they went along. They travelled on the north side of the Platte, where no road had been before until they reached Laramie; they then crossed the North Fork and took the old trappers' trail and travelled on it over three hundred miles building ferry boats on North Platte and Green rivers, and then constructed a road over the mountains to this place.
During this journey they looked out a route where they were satisfied a railroad could be built, and were just as zealous in their feelings that a railroad would follow their track as we are to-day.
They arrived here on the 24th of July, 1847. They had some potatoes which they had brought from Missouri; they planted them not far from where the City Hall now stands. In a few days after their arrival the Mississippi Company, which had wintered on the Arkansas river, a few of the sick and some families left by the Mormon Battalion, being unable to proceed with them to the Pacific—numbering altogether about 150—arrived here. They then began to feel that they were quite a populous settlement, as they counted in the neighborhood of some four hundred persons. They laid out this Temple Block, and dedicated it to the Lord. It really was one of the most barren spots they ever saw. However, they asked the Lord to bless the land and make it fruitful. They built a dam and made irrigation ditches. Some of their number lacked faith under those trying circumstances, and subsequently turned away and went to other parts of the world.
That fall—the fall of 1847—there came in here 680 wagons loaded with families. They built the fort commenced by the pioneers on the land, a portion of which is now occupied by A. O. Smoot in the 6th Ward of this city, the whole only covering about thirty acres. They dwelt in this contracted space that no temptation should be presented to the Indians to commit depredations.
During the winter they prepared a systematic plan for the irrigation of the land, for they knew nothing about it previously. They were compelled to ration out their food in small allowances, for they had no way to get more until it grew, and it required a great deal of faith on the part of the people to remain here and run the risk of procuring supplies from the earth. In the winter one or two hundred of the brethren from the West arrived almost without provisions, having been discharged from the Mormon Battalion without rations or transportation to the place of their enlistment. They explored a new route from California. Some of them passed on to their families in Winter Quarters, suffering much for the want of provisions by the way. Many of them remained here, using as food everything that possibly could be used. The Saints divided with the battalion their scanty allowance of food. During the next spring many hundred acres of land were planted. There was, however, a pest here that they had never seen anywhere else. After the nursery of twenty thousand fruit trees had come up and the fields were green and there was a good prospect of grain being raised, there came down from the mountains myriads of large black crickets, and they were awfully hungry. The nurseryman went home to dinner, and when he returned he found only three trees left; the crickets had devoured them. The brethren contended with them until they were utterly tired out, then calling on the Lord for help were ready to give up the contest, when just at that time there came over from the Salt Lake large flocks of gulls, which destroyed the crickets. They would eat them until they were perfectly gorged, and would then disgorge, vomiting them up, and again go to and eat, and so they continued until the crickets had entirely disappeared, and thus by the blessing of God the colony was saved. I believe the crickets have never been a pest in this vicinity to any serious extent since. This we regard as a special providence of the Almighty.
The early settlers did not know how to irrigate the crops properly and the result was that their wheat, the first year, was most of it very short, so short that it had to be pulled up by the roots; but singularly enough there was considerable grain in the ear, and they raised enough to encourage them to persevere in their experiments, for their labors were only experiments at that early day and also enabled them to diffuse information on the subject, which proved of general benefit. This location is so high in the mountains, the latitude about 41° and the altitude so great that nearly every one thought it was impossible to raise fruit, but some continued to plant. In the second year of their arrival here their settlement was increased by nearly a thousand wagons from the East and a few from the West. The third year the immigration continued. In 1849 a handsome sum of money was contributed as a foundation for the Perpetual Emigration Fund, and Bishop Edward Hunter went East to aid those to emigrate who could not do so by their own means. While the Saints were surrounded by their enemies on every hand in Illinois, they entered into a solemn covenant within the walls of the Temple at Nauvoo that they would exert themselves to the extent of their influence and property to aid every Latter-day Saint that desired to gather to the mountains. This covenant they did not forget, and the very moment they began to gather a little surplus they commenced to use it to aid their brethren and sisters left behind. At first they purchased, in the East, cattle and wagons necessary to bring the emigrants here; but in a few years they raised cattle here, and sent their teams to the Missouri river year after year, sometimes two hundred and sometimes three hundred, and they have sent as many as five hundred teams, for several successive seasons—a team being four yoke of oxen (or their equivalent in horses and mules), a wagon, a teamster, also the necessary officers and night guard for each company of fifty wagons. In this way they continued to bring their brethren not only from every part of the United States, but also from Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australasia. This system of emigration is continued up to the present time, and has resulted in bringing many of the Saints together, and has materially increased the population of Utah.
In the early settlement of the Territory, the Latter-day Saints had other obstacles to contend with besides those already referred to. In 1849, and for several years after, a considerable number of men passed through here on their way to the gold mines in California. Numbers of them would have perished had it not been for the provisions and supplies unexpectedly obtained here. They knew not how to outfit themselves for such a journey, and were unwilling to abide the restraints of organization necessary for their own preservation on the Plains. Hence they wore out their teams and quarreled with each other, and arrived here in every conceivable stage of destitution. Upon their arrival here they were treated as friends, employed, and furnished with the necessary outfit as far it could be obtained. I may say that tens of thousands received the assistance necessary to enable them to proceed to California to realize, if possible, their visions of gold. While the Latter-day Saints were pursuing this course, they too were tempted with a spirit of going to the gold mines. The counsel given to the brethren by President Young was to stay at home, make their farms, cultivate the earth, build houses, and plant gardens and orchards. But many preferred to go to the mines, and they went; but I believe that in every instance those who went returned, not having made as much as if they had followed the counsel given. There was this difference: the men who went to California could dig a hole and take a little gold out of it; but after a time the supply of gold would be exhausted, and then, after paying their expenses, the most of them had nothing left but a hole in the ground; but the men who went to work here on their five or ten acre lots, or even on their city lots of an acre and a quarter, in the course of a year or two had a snug little home. The result was that those who remained at home and diligently attended to agricultural pursuits were the most successful.
But among the strangers travelling through the Territory to the mines were many men of desperate character, and they would cause trouble by killing Indians near the settlements. One difficulty occurred here in the north—a band of men from Missouri shot some squaws who were riding on horseback, and took their horses; in revenge for this the Indians made an attack on our northern settlements. Similar occurrences took place in the south. The result was we were troubled with expensive Indian wars, caused by the acts, not of our own people, but of those over whom we had no control, and in some instances through the acts of men who would rather entail trouble upon us than not. In consequence of outrages inflicted on the Indians, we were under the necessity of keeping ourselves armed and having in our midst a vigilant militia. In the year 1853 the inhabitants found it necessary to encircle this city with a wall of earth, at a cost of $34,000, which they did for the purpose of preventing the Indians stealing their horses, and to enable the small police force to protect the city from their depredations. From that period the Indians have made very little inroad on the property inside this city. There is, among the Indians in these mountains, an innate principle to steal anything and everything that lies unguarded in their way. When the number of horses, sheep, and cattle, that the people throughout the Territory have raised, is considered, the number stolen by the Indians is surprisingly small. Yet some of the outside counties have suffered severely and are suffering to-day from thieving bands from neighboring Territories. In their intercourse with the Indians they have acted on the principle that it is cheaper to feed them than to fight them. In all cases they have treated them with the strictest justice as far as possible, and have maintained their relations with them in a manner truly astonishing.
We look around to-day and behold our city clothed with verdure and beautified with trees and flowers, with streams of water running in almost every direction, and the question is frequently asked, "How did you ever find this place?" I answer, we were led to it by the inspiration of God. After the death of Joseph Smith, when it seemed as if every trouble and calamity had come upon the Saints, Brigham Young, who was President of the Twelve, then the presiding Quorum of the Church, sought the Lord to know what they should do, and where they should lead the people for safety, and while they were fasting and praying daily on this subject, President Young had a vision of Joseph Smith, who showed him the mountain that we now call Ensign Peak, immediately north of Salt Lake City, and there was an ensign fell upon that peak, and Joseph said, "Build under the point where the colors fall and you will prosper and have peace." The Pioneers had no pilot or guide, none among them had ever been in the country or knew anything about it. However, they travelled under the direction of President Young until they reached this valley. When they entered it President Young pointed to that peak, and said he, "I want to go there." He went up to the point and said, "This is Ensign Peak. Now, brethren, organize your exploring parties, so as to be safe from Indians; go and explore where you will, and you will come back every time and say this is the best place." They accordingly started out exploring companies and visited what we now call Cache, Malad, Tooele, and Utah valleys, and other parts of the country in various directions, but all came back and declared this was the best spot.
I have travelled somewhat extensively in the Territory, and I bear my testimony this day, that this is the spot, and I feel confident that the God of Heaven by His inspiration led our Prophet right here. And it is the blessing of God upon the untiring energy and industry of the people that has made this once barren and sterile spot what it is to-day.
We have struggled with all our power and might to maintain that morality and uprightness which pertain to the kingdom of God, and to place all men and all women in that high position which God designs them to occupy, and to prevent them being led astray by the immoral tendencies which are abroad in the world; but while doing so we have had to contend with obstacles of every kind. The Latter-day Saints have built commodious school-houses in every ward of the various cities and through all the settlements of the Territory. They have done all they could to promote education, but they have received no assistance from any source on earth. Almost every newly settled country has received certain donations in land and money to aid them in support of their schools, but in this Territory we have never received a cent. The money that has been expended for the furtherance of education in this Territory has been by the voluntary will of the parents. Oregon received donations in land to encourage its settlement, and persons who made the earlier settlements were permitted to occupy 640 acres of land, others who settled later 320, and subsequently 160, and liberal donations of land were made available to promote the cause of education. Utah has had no such encouragement. But it is my opinion to-day that had Congress been as liberal with us as with Oregon, and had given 640 or 320 acres of land to each, it might have hindered our progress under the circumstances. Most of our farmers cultivate from five to thirty acres of land, very few of them cultivating forty; and it requires tolerably good Saints not to quarrel about the water while irrigating in a dry time even on small tracts of land close together; but how would it have been if our agriculturists had each possessed 640 acres, or even half or quarter of that, if they were compelled by law to live upon and cultivate the same or forfeit it? Most of the water would have been wasted by evaporation and soakage because of the lengthy ditches which extensive cultivation would have rendered necessary. I verily believe that if "Gentiles" lived here they would fight and kill each other with their hoes in a dry time over the water ditches.
The brethren will pardon me for devoting my time on the present occasion to this brief sketch of the history of the Church and of the Territory with which they are so well acquainted. In consequence of there being so many friends and strangers present, I felt inspired to give a little detail of the circumstances that led us here, and of some of the incidents since our arrival in this Territory.
I feel to bless God for the many privileges that we enjoy, and among others that we are now permitted to buy our lands and obtain a title to them. I feel thankful to the rulers of our nation for showing a disposition to extend to us the privileges which are enjoyed in this respect by our fellow-citizens in the other territories.
As early as 1852 our Legislative Assembly memor[i]alized Congress for a national railway, which was subsequently endorsed by immense mass meetings in this and other counties. We have done all in our power to hurry it on. Many looked on it at the time, and since, as if it were work for a hundred years; but the work is completed, and men can come from the States in a few hours. When I came here with my family, in 1849, I was one hundred and five days driving oxen from the Missouri river across the Plains to this place. Now a man can come with his family in a few days. This is a great progress, thank the Lord for it.
We are still at work with all our power developing in the new Territory everything that is useful for the sustenance of its inhabitants, for the establishment of manufactures, the promotion of agriculture, and everything that will tend to build up, strengthen, and benefit mankind. I fully believe that there is no one hundred thousand people in the United States who have done more actual service for their country than we have; for what benefits a nation is to take its worthless desert domain and endow it with beauty and wealth, by the strong hands of a loyal people.
May God help us to fill out our days with honor is my prayer, in the name of Jesus. Amen.