Church History Lesson 37
“A TEMPLE OF OUR GOD”
At Nauvoo, the Latter-day Saints had sacrificed mightily to build a temple, knowing full well that it would be destroyed once they left it behind. But they considered the sacrifice well worth all the effort in order to receive their endowments before moving west. After arriving in the Salt Lake Valley, the call to sacrifice for a House of the Lord was repeated.
On July 28, 1847, just four days after arriving in the Salt Lake Valley, President Brigham Young stood on the spot where the Salt Lake Temple now stands. He struck his cane on the ground and said, “Right here will stand the temple of our God.”1 Within a week, the Saints began surveying the layout of the their new city, beginning from the spot where President Young struck his cane—the southeast corner of Temple Square.
Elder John A. Widtsoe of the Quorum of the Twelve said, “The pioneers were hungry and weary; they needed food and rest; a hostile desert looked them in the face; yet in the midst of such physical requirements they turned first to the building of temples and to the spiritual food and strength that the temples provide.”2
President Howard W. Hunter taught that we, too, should make the temple the center point from which we measure out lives: “We . . . emphasize the personal blessings of temple worship and the sanctity and safety that are provided within those hallowed walls. It is the house of the Lord, a place of revelation and of peace. As we attend the temple, we learn more richly and deeply the purpose of life and the significance of the atoning sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ. Let us make the temple, with temple worship and temple covenants and temple marriage, our ultimate earthly goal and the supreme mortal experience. . . . May you let the meaning and beauty and peace of the temple come into your everyday life more directly.”3
The temple’s foundation was laid by hand, requiring thousands of hours of labor. The cornerstones were laid on 6 April 1853. But just a few years later, the Saints had to stop work on the temple because of a threat from the United States government. The president of the United States, based on false rumors that the Saints were rebelling against the government, sent an army to the Salt Lake Valley. In response, President Young had the Saints cover the foundation with dirt to make it look like an ordinary field. When that crisis was over, the Saints uncovered the sandstone foundation, but they found cracks in the rocks. They removed the sandstone and replaced it with solid granite blocks.
President Young insisted that only the best materials and craftsmanship be used in the construction of the temple: “I want to see the temple built in a manner that it will endure through the Millennium. This is not the only temple we shall build; there will be hundreds of them built and dedicated to the Lord. . . . And when the Millennium is over, I want that temple still to stand as a proud monument of the faith, perseverance and industry of the Saints of God in the mountains, in the nineteenth century.”4
Because of the nature of its solid-granite block construction, the Salt Lake Temple took 40 years to complete. It was not dedicated until 1893.
The First Year in the Salt Lake Valley
We should not forget that while the Saints struggled to complete the temple, they were also struggling just to survive. They lost crops, served missions at great sacrifice, and accepted calls to establish communities in remote and sometimes desolate areas.
The Old Fort. To protect themselves from Indians and predators, the Old Fort was erected in August 1847 three blocks south and three blocks west of the temple block. Two ten-acre blocks were later added to accommodate new arrivals. About 450 log cabins were built, an adobe wall around the fort was completed, a fence was constructed around the city to control the livestock, and a number of roads and bridges were built.
Government. Charles C. Rich and John Young organized a municipal high council in the Salt Lake Valley similar to the one at Winter Quarters. They made laws, levied taxes, apportioned land, issued water and timber rights, established a cemetery, and imposed fines and punishments for criminal offenses.
Agriculture. The “big field,” an area of 5,133 acres, was cultivated, with 872 acres being planted in winter wheat. When Captain James Brown arrived from California with approximately $5,000 in Mormon Battalion pay, the council appointed a group to take some of the money to southern California to buy cows, mules, wheat, and a variety of seeds.
Weber Valley. The council also approved the use of $1,950 to purchase the Miles Goodyear ranch and trading post on the Weber River 35 miles north of Salt Lake.
Indians. The Saints were not alone in the valley. Approximately 12,000 American Indians lived in the Great Basin in 1847 and a few of them lived in the Salt Lake Valley. In the Fall a group of Ute Indians came to the fort. One of them offered to sell two young Indians who had been captured in a raid. When the Saints recoiled at the suggestion, the Indian threatened to kill the children. After another refusal, one was killed. Then Charles Decker, President Brigham Young’s brother-in-law, purchased the other and gave her to Lucy Decker Young to raise. Sally, as she was named, later became chief cook in the Beehive House and eventually married the Pauvant Ute chief Kanosh.
Predators. The first winter in the valley was mild, but there were many discomforts in the Old Fort. Wolves, foxes, and other predators annoyed people their incessant howling and depredations. One night Lorenzo Dow Young spread strychnine around the area and in the morning found 14 dead white wolves.
Mice. Swarms of mice were also a nuisance. One contrivance for catching them was a bucket partially filled with water and a board sloping at each end, greased and balanced on the bucket edge, so that the mice would run onto the board to lick the grease, fall in, and drown. One of the most valuable possessions in the fort was a cat.
Spring Snow and Rain. During March and April heavy spring snow and rain fell in the valley to the great surprise of the Saints. Their homes had flat sod roofs, which leaked profusely. Food was gathered into the center of the rooms and protected with buffalo skins obtained from the Indians. “It was no uncommon thing to see a woman holding an umbrella over her while attending to her household duties.”5
The Second Year in the Salt Lake Valley
Rationing and Sego Lilies. In the spring of 1848, provisions became scarce. Many of the Saints were without shoes and adequate clothing, so they made moccasins and other clothing out of animal skins. The people were placed on rations—about one-half pound of flour per day per person. They also ate crows, thistle tops, bark, roots, and sego lily bulbs.
Priddy Meeks described attempts to find food:[While my] “family went several months without a satisfying meal of victuals. I went sometimes a mile up Jordan to a patch of wild roses to get the berries to eat which I would eat as rapidly as a hog, stems and all. I shot hawks and crows and they ate well. I would go and search the mire holes and find cattle dead and fleece off what meat I could and eat it. We used wolf meat, which I thought was good. I made some wooden spades to dig seagoes [sego lilies] with, but we could not supply our wants. . . . I would take a grubbing-hoe and a sack and start by sunrise in the morning and go, I thought six miles before coming to where the thistle roots grew, and in time to get home I would have a bushel and sometimes more thistle roots. And we would eat them raw. I would dig until I grew weak and faint and sit down and eat a root, and then begin again.”6
Late Spring Frosts and a May/June Drought. Because of these difficult conditions, the settlers naturally looked forward to the harvest of new crops, but late spring frosts injured much of the wheat and garden vegetables. Then a May and June drought injured, more of the crops.
A Plague of Crickets. Worse yet, great swarms of crickets descended from the foothills and began devouring what remained of their crops. Men, women, and children turned out with sticks, shovels, and brooms to combat the pests. They used fire and even dug trenches to drown the crickets, but these measures failed to stop the onslaught. For about two weeks they battled and prayed for relief. Crop failure meant disaster for the present colony and no food for the more than two thousand Saints planning to immigrate that year.
The Miracle of the Gulls. Finally on a Sabbath day, while Charles C. Rich was preaching, seagulls from the Great Salt Lake flew in and began to devour the insects. The gulls continued their attacks for over two weeks until the crickets were effectively eliminated. Many of the crops were preserved. Today the seagull is Utah’s state bird, and a monument to the seagulls stands on Temple Square.
The First Harvest. The Saints nurtured the remaining crops throughout the summer and on 10 August held a harvest feast.
Return of President Brigham Young and the Mormon Battalion. President Brigham Young and other Church leaders returned to Iowa for a while to organize more pioneer companies for the trek to the Salt Lake Valley. He returned to the valley in September 1848. Before the end of that year, nearly 3,000 Saints, including members of the Mormon Battalion, arrived in the valley. About 1/4 of the exiles from Nauvoo were now in their new refuge in the West.
President Brigham Young wrote to those in Iowa, “[The Saints have found] “a haven of rest, a place for our souls, a place where we may dwell in safety.” This was happy news to refugees who had been driven from their homes more than once. He also affirmed that they would “once more rear a temple to his [God’s] names’ honor and glory.”7
“Here We Will Stay”
A Severe Winter. In contrast to the previous winter, the winter of 1848–49 was very severe. It snowed frequently, and the snow remained on the ground throughout the entire winter, making it difficult for the cattle to feed. Heavy snowfall in the mountains also made it difficult to gather wood. Excessive cold and violent winds often made life miserable for the settlers.
Predators and Lack of Food. Food was again so scarce that the people ate wolves, hawks, crows, dogs, and animals that had been dead for some time. The council sponsored a contest to eliminate predatory animals, and also instituted a voluntary rationing and community storehouse system. Those with surplus food were asked to give it to their bishop to be shared with the needy.
“California Fever.” The harshness of the winter, constant hunger, a meager harvest the previous year, and the pull of what was called “California fever” created some discontent, and a few settlers loaded their wagons and prepared to leave in the spring.
Heber C. Kimball prophesied during that difficult time:
“When the people were in poverty, when they were almost disheartened, and things looked so dark and dreary before them. Heber C. Kimball prophesied that goods would be sold as cheaply in Salt Lake City as in New York. After he sat down, he said to President Brigham Young, ‘Well, Brother Brigham, I have done it now.’
“Brother Brigham said: ‘Never mind, Heber, let it go.’ They did not, either one of them, believe it. After the meeting adjourned, Apostle Charles C. Rich, I am told, went up to Heber C. Kimball, and he said: ‘Heber, I don’t believe a word you said.’ Heber said: ‘Neither do I . . . but God hath spoken.’
“A short time after, the prophecy was literally fulfilled.”8
President Brigham Young said:
“God has 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. . . . We have been kicked out of the frying-pan into the fire, out of the fire into the middle of the floor, and here we are and here we will stay. . . . 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 settlements to the east and 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 in from the nations of the earth. . . . We have the finest climate, the best water, and the purest air that can be found on the earth; there is no healthier climate anywhere. As for gold and silver, and the rich minerals of the earth, there is no other country that equals this; but let them alone; let others seek them, and we will cultivate the soil.”9
The Elements are Tempered. Most Saints remained loyal to the cause and planted their seeds. As summer came, the Lord tempered the elements, and there was a bounteous harvest—enough to feed the 5,000 Saints who were already in the valley and the 1,400 who arrived during the summer
An Economic Windfall from the Forty-Niners. An estimated 10–15,000 gold seekers passed through Salt Lake City in 1849 and 1850, providing an economic windfall to the Saints. Merchant companies, organized to haul goods to California, learned upon reaching Salt Lake City that food, clothing, implements, and tools sent by ship had already reached the marketplace. They sold their goods to the Saints at devalued prices rather than take an even heavier loss in California.
Parties with empty wagons were sent out from Salt Lake to collect, valuable items discarded along the route by those who had attempted to lighten their loads so they could hurry faster to the gold fields of California. John D. Lee spent several days looking for a suitable stove for his family. He finally “found one to his liking, a fine large Premium Range No. 3 which would have cost more than fifty dollars to purchase. On the way back he started loading up with powder and lead, cooking utensils, tobacco, nails, tools, bacon, coffee, sugar, trunks of clothing, axes, and harness.”10 Thus the famous 1849 gold rush fulfilled the prophecies of President Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball and directly enabled the Saints to survive in the Salt Lake Valley.
Early Exploration and Colonization
Exploring Northern Utah. Church leaders began seeking other locations for settlement with adequate water supply, soil fertility, availability of timber and other building materials, altitude of surrounding mountains, and mineral deposits. In July and August of 1847, men explored southward in the Salt Lake Valley, northward along the Bear River, and eastward into Cache Valley. In December 1847, Parley P. Pratt led a one-week exploring party that went south to the large, freshwater Utah Lake and then returned home by way of the Cedar and Tooele valleys west of the Oquirrh mountain range on the west of the Salt Lake Valley.
New Routes to California. During the Fall of 1847, two routes to California were traversed by Mormon companies. Captain James Brown accompanied Samuel Brannan along the northern trail back to his colony at San Francisco. Jefferson Hunt, senior Latter-day Saint captain of the Mormon Battalion, led a group of 18 men to southern California to secure cattle and other needed supplies.
Additional Settlements. Within a year of the pioneers’ arrival, small towns were settled in what became Davis and Weber counties to the north. The attractive and fertile Utah Valley—named after the Ute Indians who lived there—was another logical place for settlement. Other Utah Valley Communities were also settled, including Lehi, Alpine, American Fork, Pleasant Grove, Springville, Spanish Fork, Salem, Santaquin, and Payson. This line of settlements utilized every mountain stream and was spaced so that the outlying farms and pasture lands of each community bordered the next, and all settlers could rally together in case of danger. Tooele Valley, west of Salt Lake Valley, was colonized in 1849. Juab, Sanpete, and Manti were created that same year about a hundred miles south of Salt Lake City.
Utah’s Dixie. Parley P. Pratt’s exploring party headed south, and on December 10th, while on the Sevier River, 200 miles south of Salt Lake City, Pratt’s company’s thermometer registered 23 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. After another hundred miles, part of the company crossed the rim of the Great Basin into what would become known as Utah’s Dixie, and they noticed a marked change in the climate and topography. By New Year’s Day they had reached the present-day site of St. George. Indian guides and villagers informed them that the country to the south was desolate and forbidding, so they decided to return north. They were forced to stop at Chalk Creek (now Fillmore) because of heavy snow.
NEW PROPHETS, NEW CHALLENGES
President Brigham Young led the Church for 33 years. After he died in 1877, John Taylor led the Church for three years as President of the Quorum of the Twelve and was then sustained as President of the Church on October 10, 1880.11 During all those years, missionary work continued around the world. During this time, Elder Lorenzo Snow helped open the hearts of the people in Italy to the gospel message. And Joseph F. Smith helped establish the Church in the Hawaiian Islands. Through this period, the Saints continued to serve and to sacrifice for the building of the Kingdom of God, as they had covenanted to do in the House of the Lord. And as they did so, the desert truly did “blossom as the rose.”
The Blessings of Obedience
The Doctrine and Covenants contains many teachings about the blessings of obedience, which our pioneer ancestors firmly believed, and which we would do well to remember:
— D&C 58:2-4. If we keep the commandments and are “faithful in tribulation,” we will be “crowned with much glory.”
— D&C 64:33-34. Those who are willing and obedient will be blessed in the land of Zion in the last days.
— D&C 82:10. The Lord is bound when we do what He says. He will bless us when we obey His commandments.
— D&C 93:1. Those who repent, come unto the Savior, and keep His commandments will see His face.
— D&C 130:19-21. A person who gains more knowledge and intelligence through diligence and obedience in this life will have an advantage in the world to come. We obtain blessings by obeying God’s laws.
Although we are not called to colonize new areas, we are asked to obey the prophet today. As we do so, we are entitled to the same blessings as our pioneer ancestors were seeking.
1. In Wilford Woodruff, Deseret Evening News, 25 July 1888, 2.
2. In Conference Report, Apr. 1943, 38.
3. In Conference Report, Oct. 1994, 118; or Ensign, Nov. 1994, 87-88.
4. Discourses of Brigham Young, sel. John A. Widtsoe , 395.
5. “Pioneer Reminiscences,” Young Woman’s Journal, July 1902, 294.
6. “Journal of Priddy Meeks,” Utah Historical Quarterly, 1942, 163.
7. Clark, In James R. Clark, comp., Messages of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1:341.
8. J. Golden Kimball, in Thomas E. Chaney, The Golden Legacy, 13.
9. James S. Brown, Giant of the Lord: Life of a Pioneer, 132–133.
10. Juanita Brooks, John Doyle Lee: Zealot-Pioneer Builder-Scapegoat, 48–49.
11. Our Heritage, 93.