"What We Can Learn From the Pioneers" by Reynold Peterson Smith
Contributor: dfarmer55 Created: 9 months ago Updated: 9 months ago
In June of last year, Linda (wife) and I followed the path of the pioneers starting at Nauvoo, and wondered why our ancestors suffered so terribly, and willingly faced tremendous obstacles. Perhaps one reason they suffered and endured was to leave us a legacy of faith.
My great-grandfather, Samuel H. B. Smith, as an orphaned nine-year-old boy walked the pioneer trail from Nauvoo to Salt Lake with his cousin, Joseph F. Smith. President Joseph F. Smith said in an April 1904 General Conference, "I firmly believe that the divine approval, lesson, and favor of the almighty God has guided the destiny of this people; from the organization of the church to the present and guided our footsteps and our journeying into the tops of these mountains." Our pioneer forefathers sacrificed virtually all they had, including their lives in many cases, to follow a prophet of God.
The vast majority of the Utah pioneers got the first glimpse of the desert landscape of the great Salt Lake Valley on foot. Some like my great-grandfather even arrived barefoot, having suffered extreme hardships in traversing more than 1,300 miles of prairie, desert, and mountain wilderness. Before the railroad reached the Utah territory in 1869 approximately 70,000 pioneers, 9,600 wagons, and 650 handcarts made the trek from Winter Quarters in present day Iowa and Nebraska to the Great Salt Lake Valley. Each pioneer who walked from the Mississippi River to the Great Salt Lake took millions of steps to travel this distance.
In favorable circumstances the trek took a little more than three months. Traveling fifteen miles a day was considered a good day. The pioneer exodus from Nauvoo began on February 4, 1846; nearly four years earlier in August of 1842,the Prophet Joseph Smith shared his foreknowledge of the trek west when he said, "I prophesy that the saints will continue to suffer much affliction and will be driven to the Rocky Mountains. Many would apostatize, others would be put to death, persecuted or lose their lives in consequence of exposure or disease. Some would live to build cities and see the saints become a mighty people in the midst of the Rocky Mountains." The Prophet Brigham Young received a vision of the Prophet Joseph Smith, in which Joseph showed him a mountain with an Ensign upon its peak. Joseph said, "Go to the point where the colors fall and you will prosper and have peace." The identification of this peak as the saints entered in July of 1847 confirmed to President Young that the pioneers had reached their destination--their Zion--in the tops of the mountains. We know this mountain today as Ensign Peak, and it rises above the valley of downtown Salt Lake City.
As the pioneers traveled across Iowa their worries centered on food, forage, wood, and fire and ceaseless snow and rain. A broken axle or missing ox became a crisis. Tragic illness overcame many who were wet, chilled and malnourished. The 260 mile trek from Nauvoo to Winter Quarters took 131 days. By comparison the trek from Winter Quarters to the Salt Lake Valley, which was about four times the distance approximately 1,032 miles took only 111 days.
Perhaps the most memorable stalwarts were the saints who made the journey in handcarts. The handcart companies brought nearly 3,000 saints west between 1856 and 1860. In 1856 the Bunker handcart company was the third handcart company to leave of the five handcart companies that left that year. It brought some of my ancestors west to Salt Lake. Following is their story:
My great-great-grandparents, Margaret Jenkins and Henry B. Reese, traveled with their families from Wales to Salt Lake City, Utah. They later settled in Spanish Fork, where Henry and Margaret were married. This is the account of their journey. Margaret and Henry were both born in Wales. When Margaret was seven years old, her family moved to Merthyr Tydfil in Wales where they were active in the White Lion Branch. Henry's father was the Branch President and had the power of healing the sick. Margaret and her mother were baptized just one day before the Church was 21 years old. They tried to make the baptism secret, but their enemies found them and were throwing stones and rocks into the water.
The saints were always talking about immigrating to Zion. Henry's parents began saving for their immigration to Utah. To go to Zion was a thought foremost in the saints' minds. Margaret's mother also started saving wages from her father's daily earnings, enough for them to immigrate to Utah. Margaret's mother mentioned to her father one night about the possibility of immigrating to Utah. Then he said, "We can't go to Zion, we haven't any money." So Margaret's mother brought out a sack with a lot of money in it. The father said, "Where did you get all that money?" She replied, "It is your hard earnings that I have saved to go to Zion."
Henry and Margaret's courtship began in Wales when they attended a singing school together. Early in 1856, a company of Welsh saints numbering 776 under the supervision of Dan Jones prepared to leave for America. Both Henry and Margaret's parents and their families were prepared to go. They left Merthyr Tydfil by train. Because there were so many saints leaving they had to go at different times. The first ones to arrive in Liverpool waited until the entire company had arrived. They left Liverpool on the 19th day of April 1856 on the ship Samuel Curling. While crossing the ocean they encountered a terrible storm of wind and rain. The small sailing vessel was tossed and turned and the passengers were terribly frightened. The storm kept up for three days. Finally Captain Jones told the saints to pray and he would ask the ship's Captain Daniel B. MacArthur to let him have charge of the ship. Captain MacArthur said, "Take her. We're going to the bottom of the sea anyway." As morning dawned, the storms ceased. The saints arrived in Boston on May 23. Passenger trains could not be obtained so they had to take cattle cars and travel for four days before they could get better accommodations. While riding in the cattle cars, the people along side the cars made fun of them by bellowing and mooing as they went by. They didn't have any place to sit down, except on the luggage they had with them.
They arrived in Iowa City where the Reese and the Jenkins families helped to prepare their handcarts. They finally started across the plains on June 23, 1856 in Captain Bunker's company. They camped on the banks of the Missouri River for two weeks while they waited for their supply wagons to catch up to them. In crossing the river, Margaret and the other women had to lift their skirts and clamp them underneath their arms to keep them dry. This also made it easier wading. On their journey often the little ones would cry from being so tired and hungry. Their provisions consisted of corn meal, bacon, and beans. They baked their bread in an iron bake kettle over the campfire for every meal. They had four wagons for provisions and when the food got low they were rationed to 1/2 pound of flour a day. It wasn't enough to keep up their strength and that's why Margaret's father got ill. One night during an awful wind and rain storm they could not build fires to bake the bread. And that was the night that Margaret's father died. The next morning they buried him and the company moved on. This occurred near Fort Laramie. The brother built a brush fire over his grave to protect it from Indians and animals. And as Margaret looked back, she could see the fire burning on her father's grave.
In her journal Henry's mother said, "Not only her family but all of the company went to bed hungry every night." Just before they reached Salt Lake, Margaret had said she was so hungry that she just about gave up. As they passed one of the first houses they came to while coming into the Great Salt Lake Valley, a little girl ran out and gave Margaret a piece of bread with molasses on it. This gave Margaret enough strength to help her get to the public square where today the city and county building stand. After three months on the plains and in the mountains both families and the company had arrived in Salt Lake City. It was conference time and President Brigham Young told the people attending conference to go to the public square and take the members of the handcart company home with them.
Should we be surprised if we are called upon to endure a little criticism, to make some sacrifice for our faith, when our forebearers paid such a great price? The pioneers regarded coming west as a great blessing. Brigham Young said on one occasion, "I do not wish men to think I have had anything to do with being moved here. That was the providence of the Almighty. It was the power of God that brought salvation to this people. I never could have devised such a plan."
The power that moved our forebearers is the power of faith in God. It is the same power that made possible the exodus from Egypt, the passage through the Red Sea, the long journey through the wilderness, and the establishment of Israel in the promised land. It is by this power that our forebearers left Nauvoo and the beautiful lands of the Mississippi to travel to the shores of the Great Salt Lake.
It is a thing of never-ending wonder that Brigham and the pioneers had the faith to move to the mountain valleys of Utah. The movement of the pioneers involved an exodus of many thousands to a land that many others thought unproductive and barren. Nevertheless they went west putting their trust in God, that He would rebuke the sterileness of the soil and temper the climate that they might be sustained and grow that they might become a mighty people in the midst of the Rocky Mountains. We need a strong dose of that faith in God and in his resurrected son. When they came west there was 1,000 miles to the nearest settlement in the east and 800 miles to the nearest settlement to the west. The personal and individual recognition of God the Eternal Father was the very essence of their strength. They believed in that great scriptural mandate from Alma "look to God and live." With great faith, they sought to do His will. With faith they read and accepted divine teachings. With faith, they labored until they dropped, always with the conviction that there would be an accounting to Him who was their Father and their God. As we reflect on those who have gone before us and as we consider the present labors for the good of ourselves and others, would that we all could say each day, "I am doing my work faithfully and in good faith."
Our pioneer forebearers, converts to the church, came with testimony on their lips and faith in their hearts. It is difficult to leave your homes and step into the unknown of a new world. They did it with optimism and enthusiasm. They boarded sailing vessels and knew that the crossing at best was hazardous and they soon found out that for the most part it was miserable. They endured storms, disease, sickness, many died on the way and were buried at sea. It was an arduous and fearsome journey. They had doubts, yes, but their faith rose above those doubts and their optimism rose above their fear. They had their dream of Zion and were on their way to fulfill it.
Now I'd like to quote from President Hinckley: "Can you comprehend the magnitude of Brigham Young's faith in leading thousands of people through the wilderness. He'd never seen this country, except as he had seen it in vision. It was an act of boldness almost beyond comprehension to him coming here was all a part of a grand pattern of the growth and destiny of this work. To those that followed him, it was the pursuit of a great dream. The pioneers came here because of their great faith. They thought of the costs and knew they would be heavy. They knew there would be extreme hazards and many of them would die along the way and more than 4,000 of them did die. They gave their lives as a testimony of their belief."
I'd like to now quote from James Brown as he told of the remarkable testimony and prophecy: "The winter of 1848 to 1849 was quite cold. Many people had their feet badly frozen. As the days grew warmer, the gold fever attacked many and some prepared to go to California. Some said they would only go to prepare a place for the rest of us, for they thought Brigham Young too smart a man to establish a place, a civilized colony, in such a god-forsaken country as the Salt Lake Valley." [James Brown was a member of the Mormon Battalion, and worked at Sutter's Mill when gold was discovered in California.]
It was at that time of gloom that President Brigham Young stood before the whole people and said in substance, "Some have asked about going. I have told them that 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. Some have thought that they would go there and get fitted out and come back, but I told them to stop here and get fitted out. Those who stop here, and are faithful to God and his people will make more money and get richer than those who run after the gods of this world. I promise you in the name of the Lord, that many of you who go thinking that you will grow rich and come back, will wish you had never gone away from here and will want to come back but you will not be able to do so. Some of you will come back but your friends who remain here will have to help you. You have been kicked out of the frying pan and into the fire and out of the fire into the middle of the forest. And here we are and here we will stay. God has shown me that this is the spot to locate his people and here is where they will prosper. He will rebuke the elements for the good of the saints. He will rebuke the frost and the sterility of the soil. And the fruit trees shall become fruitful. Brethren, go now and plant your fruit seeds. We shall build a city and a temple to the Most High God in this place. We will extend our settlement to the east and to the west, to the north and to the south. And we will build houses, cities by the hundreds and thousands. As the saints gather in from the nations of the earth, this shall become the great highway of the nation. Kings and emperors, the noble and wise of the earth will visit us here. The wicked and the ungodly shall envy us for our homes and possessions. Take courage brethren. I can stand in my store and see where there's untold millions of rich treasures of the earth, both gold and silver. But the time is not yet come for the saints to dig gold. For if the mines are opened first, we are a thousand miles from a base of supply and the people would rush in here with such great numbers that we would create a famine. People would starve to death with barrels of gold. It is our duty to preach the gospel, gather Israel, pay our tithing and build temples. The worst fear I have about this people is that they will get rich in this country, forget God and his people, wax fat, and kick themselves out of the church and go to hell. This people will stand mobbing, poverty, and all manner of persecution. But my greater fear for them is that we cannot stand wealth, and yet they are to be tried with riches, and they will become the richest people on this earth."
For the most part, Brigham Young's prophecy has been fulfilled. This is now a beautiful and fertile area, and has become the crossroads of the west. Faith must become the prominent factor in our lives as it was in the pioneers. The pioneers were a noble people who had faith and lived with loyalty. They were industrious and worked with integrity. And standing above all of their other principles was their belief in God the Eternal Father and in his son Jesus Christ, our Savior and Redeemer.
Our Savior was with them on the long march - the Elkhorn, up the Platte, beside the Sweetwater, over the continental divide, and on to the dry and desert country to the valley of the Great Salt Lake. He was their friend and they offered their prayers in his name. They put their faith in him. 'And should we die before our journeys through, happy day all is well! We then are free from toil and sorrow too. With the just we shall dwell!' Such was their belief. Death was tragic for those left behind, but they knew that there would be another day, a day of happy reunion. 'But if our lives are spared again, to see the saints their rest obtain. Oh how we'll make this chorus swell! All is well! All is well!'
When the way seems hard and we become discouraged thinking all is lost, we can turn to the pioneers and see how much worse was their condition. When we wonder about the future, we can look to them and their great example of faith. I am so thankful for my ancestors and their perseverance and their great example of faith.
I bear my testimony that I know that God loves us and that his son Jesus Christ died for us and made it possible for us to come and live with them. I am so thankful for Joseph Smith and for his restoration of the gospel and his translation of the Book of Mormon. And I'm thankful that we have a prophet today, and for his guidance of this church.
Reynold Smith Funeral Notes
Contributor: dfarmer55 Created: 9 months ago Updated: 9 months ago
Journal notes: April 28, 2008.
This past week-end my 3 sons and their wives and I went to Alpine, Utah to bid good-bye to my nephew Ren Smith. Ren died from complications of diabetes, which he had since he was 17 years old. His life has been filled with trials and poor health. He lost is eyesight in 1983, His wife left him and took their two children in 1984, his business failed and he had to go on dialysis, as his kidneys failed. His mother donated a kidney to her son, and it lasted for 10 years. He married a wonderful woman, Linda Gorman, and she cared for Ren for 23 years. Ren had 2 more kidney transplants and lost both legs due to infection. The second amputation took place in March. He lived until the 25th of April, having suffered a cardiac arrest.
He was so faithful and good he was loved by all who knew him. What an example he set for his loved ones. I have never witnessed such a fine attitude as Ren displayed all of his life. I feel he was so well prepared to move the next life. He surely proved himself to be faithful and patient as he endured all the trials he suffered. I will miss his telephone calls and encouragement.
His funeral was held in a Stake Building in Alpine, Utah and was so well attended. Fred Smith, his brother and Sonya Stucki, his sister gave tributes to him and Randy, my son was asked to speak as well as Curt sang “Homeward Bound” . Ken, Randy Stucki and Abi Smith, a neice and a cousin sang “What is this thing that men call death.” At the close of the meeting my 5 sons, Randy, Joel, Ray, Ken and Curt sang the postlude hymn, “I need Thee Every Hour”. The feeling of love and peace permeated the chapel and I felt such a gratitude to my Heavenly Father to be a part of this fine family. I felt blessed to be associated with my sister-in-law, Jean and her husband Fred, their children and grandchildren. I also enjoyed seeing Scott and Kathleen and two of their children there. I feel our children come from wonderful and strong stock. I express my desire to hope to see our children and our children’s children remain true and faithful and strong in the gospel.