It is Days of 47 time again, time to remember and honor the courage and strength of the Mormon Pioneers. The first pioneers crossed the plains to the Salt Lake Valley in 1847 to build a place where they could enjoy religious freedom. They entered the Valley on July 24th, and the date of their arrival, known as Pioneer Day, is celebrated with parades, rodeos, and other activities. This time of celebration is important to my family as seven of my eight ancestors were part of the Mormon Exodus and my eighth ancestor entered the Valley a few years later by transcontinental railroad.
The Mormon pioneers, most of whom were members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, migrated from Illinois to the Salt Lake Valley, located in the Territory of Utah (the present state of Utah). This area was once part of the Republic of Mexico before the Mexican War, but it became American territory after the United States won the war over the annexation of Texas.
The Mormons were forced out of the American Midwest because of their religion. They were chased out of Missouri with threats of death; they settled in Illinois where they built a beautiful city known as Nauvoo. A few years later enemies of the Church killed the Prophet Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum in Illinois in an effort to destroy the Church and extinguish the religion. When the enemies realized that the Church was not falling apart, they forced the Mormons out of Illinois.
The pioneers began leaving Nauvoo in February 1846 by crossing the Mississippi River on top of thick ice. They traveled westward in winter weather until they left the United States. They wintered in Winter Quarters, near present-day Omaha, Nebraska. There they repaired old wagons and built new ones; they gathered supplies and made plans. They built log cabins and planted crops in the spring for the people who would follow them. People who could not afford teams and wagons built handcarts to carry their belongings. The advance pioneer companies entered the Salt Lake Valley in 1847 and were followed by approximately 70,000 people. Some handcart companies were caught in early winter weather and suffered greatly. The Mormon Exodus is said to have ended with the completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad in 1869.
This video, narrated by President Gordon B. Hinckley, illustrates the sacrifices made by the Mormon Pioneers. His retelling of the experiences of the Martin Handcart Company at the Sweetwater River is particularly poignant. The pioneers were struggling with cold, hunger, and discouragement when three 18-year-old boys came to their rescue. The names of these three young men are etched in history: George W. Grant, C. Allen Huntington, and David P. Kimball. These young men carried nearly every member of the handcart company across the icy river and died years later from the effects of the experience. Their acts of courage, compassion, and service saved many of the handcart pioneers, and the report of their acts brought tears to the eyes of President Brigham Young.