Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Centennial Lessons: Church History for Women — 9. The First Year in Great Salt Lake Valley
 


Centennial Lessons: Church History for Women — 9. The First Year in Great Salt Lake Valley

By: Ardis E. Parshall - February 25, 2009

Please see the Introduction to this series for the origins of these lessons, written by Elder A.G. Pack, a missionary to England in 1930.

“THIS IS THE PLACE”: Under the able leadership of president Brigham Young the first company of Saints entered Great Salt Lake Valley on the 24th of July, 1847. President Young, who had seen in vision the place where the Saints were to settle, was ill and was riding in a carriage. The company stopped. For a few moments he gazed silently over the expansive valley which lay at their feet. Then, stretching his arm over the valley, he prophetically exclaimed: “This is the place. Drive on!” The destinies of the fugitive Saints were settled.

Looking from the Wasatch barrier, the colonists gazed upon a scene of entrancing though forbidding beauty. A barren, arid plain, rimmed by mountains like a literal basis … No green meadows, not a tree worthy the name, scarce a patch of green-sward to entice the adventurous wanderers into the Valley. … Off to the westward lay the lake, making an impressive, uninviting picture in its severe, unliving beauty; from its blue wastes sombre peaks rose as precipitous islands, and about the shores of this dead sea were saline flats that told of the scorching heat and thirsty atmosphere of this parched region. [The Story of Mormonism, Talmage, pp. 56-57.]

REACTION OF THE WOMEN: At the mouth of Emigration Canyon President Young told the Saints that this was “the place,” but so unattractive and seemingly forsaken was it to Harriet Wheeler Young that she exclaimed: “Weak and weary as I am, I would rather go a thousand miles farther than remain in such a forsaken place as this.” Clara Decker Young optimistically replied, “… things do not look dreary to me here. There are no trees, but they can be planted.” [Manuscript History of Brigham Young, Susa Young Gates, p. 286.]

THE FIRST CAMP: They camped on the banks of a small stream, later called City Creek, where they built a fort as a protection against Indian attacks. On the first day in the Valley, when the people prepared to plant the seeds they had so preciously guarded across the plains, they found it necessary to first flood the century-baked soil before their ploughs could more than scratch the surface. This was done by building a dam across the stream. Then the ground was ploughed and Wilford Woodruff planted potatoes. The fields were watered again. This was the beginning of Anglo-Saxon irrigation in America. Soon various crops were also planted.

On July 28th, while walking one-half mile north of the temporary camp, President Young struck his walking stick into the ground, and exclaimed: “Here we will build the Temple of our God!” Another temple – and this in the midst of a bleak wilderness! The place was carefully marked and is to-day the southeast corner of the Salt Lake Temple.

Preparations were soon under way for the organization of a “Stake of Zion,” and near the temple site a “bowery” was later erected for religious worship. Exploring parties were sent into the surrounding region. Great Salt Lake City was laid out square to the compass, allowing plenty of space for streets and individual homes. The people set about industriously to reclaim the desert.

TAKEN AS A TERRITORY OF THE UNITED STATES: Soon the American flag was flying over the “Old Fort.” Although they were on Mexican territory the Saints proclaimed themselves still under the jurisdiction of the United States Government, avowing their continued allegiance thereto. Some unknowing persons have accused these fugitives of going into foreign lands to establish a kingdom of their own, but does this action of these loyal people, and the added testimony of the valiant Mormon Battalion, merit such unwarranted accusation!

Other companies closely followed and by the fall of 1847, there were 1,700 souls in Great Salt Lake Valley.

A PIONEER WOMAN: Mary Fielding Smith, the widow of the martyred Patriarch Hyrum and her family were in one of those companies. They had received practically no help in their “start for the Valley,” but,

After a series of the most amusing and trying circumstances, such as sticking in the mud, doubling teams up all the little hills, and crashing at ungovernable speed down the opposite sides, breaking wagon tongues and reaches, upsetting, and vainly endeavouring to control wild steers, heifers and unbroken cows, they finally succeeded in reaching the Elkhorn, where the companies were being organized for the plains. [Relief Society Magazine, Vol. III, p. 134.]

The Captain of her company unkindly said that if she tried to continue the journey in the condition of her equipment she would “be a burden on the company the whole way.” She only firmly replied: “I will beat you to the Valley and will ask no help from you either!”

Perilous times followed close on her departure. After buying several oxen on credit, one of them laid down on the desert and appeared to be in the throes of death. Mary hurriedly secured a bottle of consecrated oil and asked her brethren to anoint the poor beast. The Lord mercifully heard their prayers, recognized her faith, and restored the ox. Later, some of the Captain’s best oxen died; Widow Smith offered help, but he cruelly insinuated that she had poisoned them! The night before they reached the Valley several of her cows strayed from camp. Next morning, at an earlier hour than usual, the unkind Captain started the company, knowing her condition, but wishing to beat her to headquarters. They left her behind and rolled on. Soon, however, misfortune overtook them too. a severe rainstorm stampeded their cattle and some of their wagons were overturned, while Sister smith had her cattle safely tied to her wagons. She made an early start next morning, moved up the hill past the confused company, and continued on to Great Salt Lake Valley.

To her, as to all those weary travelers, “the Valley” was a haven of rest. Joseph’s prophecy was fulfilled. They had found the place which God prepared for them.

THE FIRST SCHOOL was established by Miss Mary Jane Dilworth who arrived in September, 1847, and in the following month opened in a tent the first school in what later became the territory of Utah. The Saints had wisely foreseen their needs and carted several wagon loads of valuable books across the plains. Although having but few pupils, and only a tent pitched within the walls of the “Old Fort” in which to meet, her venture was successful and laid the foundation for one of America’s ranking school systems. Sister Elvira Cole Holmes arrived soon after and made her home in the “Old Fort.” Following the example of Miss Dilworth, she also taught one of the first schools held there, taking sego and thistle roots and wolf meat in payment for her services, while occasionally she received the luxury of a scant supply of bran, for bread. She made butter and cheese, selling it to help maintain her home. Her husband raised wool, which she spun and wove into cloth. Home-made shoes, dresses made from hand-carded wool, a calico, gingham or home-spun silk gown, were for best wear, while some less fortunate wore wolf, fox or bear skins.

WHY THE GREAT AMERICAN DESERT?: What was there in this barren valley so enticing to the Saints of God? Many of them had walked the full 1,200 miles from the Missouri River: others trekked from California. The answer is simple. God led them there; Great Salt Lake Valley was their long sought-for home; here they were to become the “mighty people,” as prophesied by the Prophet. Although they found the Valley a desert, with almost superhuman industry it was soon made to “blossom as the rose.” Zion was built in the tops of the Mountains! “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings!” Here they might live in peace – unmolested by neighbours for there were none.

THE FIRST WINTER IN “THE VALLEY” was comparatively mild. Had it been as severe as subsequent ones, there is little doubt that many of those tent-inhabiting souls would have perished. Even those who arrived soon enough to build small log cabins underwent hard times. The roofs of their huts were flat and covered with willows and dirt, with practically no slant to allow for drainage. Sister Eliza R. Snow says:

We suffered no inconvenience from this fact until about the middle of March, when a long storm of snow, sleet and rain occurred, and for several days the sun did not make its appearance. The roof of our dwelling was covered deeper with earth than the adjoining ones, consequently it did not leak so soon, and some of my neighbours huddled in for shelter; but one evening, when several were socially sitting around, the water commenced dripping in one place, and then in another; they dodged it for awhile, but it increased so rapidly that they finally concluded they might as well go to their own wet houses. After they had gone I spread my umbrella over my head and shoulders as I ensconced myself in bed, the lower part of which, not shielded by the umbrella, was wet enough before morning. The earth overhead was thoroughly saturated, and after it commenced to drip the storm was much worse indoors than out. [The Women of Mormondom, p. 351.]

The winter passed without serious casualties, but spring found the people wanting in food supplies. Famine faced them and their only hope lay in the success of their crops. Brigham Young’s nephew says:

Beef, milk, pig-weeds, segoes, and thistles formed our diet … At last the hunger was so sharp that father took down the old birdpecked ox-hide from the tree; and it was converted into most delicious soup, and enjoyed by the family as a rich treat. [Manuscript History of Brigham Young, Susa Young Gates, p. 349.]

Questions.

1. – Describe the scene as the pioneers entered Great Salt Lake Valley. Locate Salt Lake City.
2. – How did trappers consider the Valley as a place for settlement? How did Brigham Young look upon it?
3. – How did the women of the Pioneer party feel upon first entry into “the Valley”?
4. – Explain the beginning of Anglo-Saxon irrigation in America.
5. – Why is the incident of July 28th,j 1847, so very important in the lives of all Latter-day Saints?
6. – Describe the humble beginning of education in the Valley.
7. – Tell the experience of Sister Mary Fielding smith in crossing the Plains.
8. – Tell what you can find from any source about the first Winter spent in the Valley.
9. – What was the impelling factor which kept the people so loyally united?
10. – Sing “O Ye Mountains High.” Learn the words “by heart,” and tell how this song was written.



1 Comment »

  1. The inclusion of Mary Fielding’s story is interesting – they use a version that was influenced (or quoting from, I would have to compare) Joseph F. Smith’s version, as manifest in its antipathy for the company captain. It’s been a while since I read Lavina’s article, though.

    Comment by J. Stapley — February 25, 2009 @ 2:22 pm

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