Friday, February 13, 2015

Facts behind the great Mormon Exodus to the Salt Lake Valley

Okay, so here are my thoughts on the expulsion of the latter-day saints along with quotes used at the Exodus memorial. It is a bit long, but bear with me. I think you’ll be enlightened.

Most of us have experienced being bullied at least to a small degree don’t you think? Many of us have also found ourselves being overbearing to the point that you could say that we were exercising unrighteous dominion over others. Can you agree with that? However, if you look at history, few have undergone the extreme bullying of mob action resulting in such persecution that an entire community of twelve thousand law abiding citizens was expelled in the bitter winter from their city, their state even their country.  Then to top it off, the whole community moved some 1,300 miles away in 1844 before modern means of travel and still survived to tell their tale.

It is ironic that this atrocity took place in a country that espoused freedom of religion more than any country at anytime in the history of the world.

Wow! How could that have happened and why? Well, from what I’ve gathered the past ten months while serving in Nauvoo, it was clearly the result of the Adversary using natural man to accomplish his designs. True followers of Christ have always endured persecution at least to some degree and many times while in full force. With the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ in 1830, it was clearly no different. I believe that the enemy of all that's good used his full force to agitate, irritate, and eventually try to exterminate his competition.

Here are a few facts to support my theory:

1. John Taylor was one of the witnesses who went before a judge in Carthage to try to explain their actions taken against the Nauvoo Expositor printing press. Remember, the whole City Council had been tried twice for their behavior and been acquitted both times. When it was over, John Taylor expressed his deep frustration when his side of the story was not even considered. He claimed that the background noise to everything he said was encased in accusations of lies. (Interesting that the very thing of which the mob was guilty—overt and extreme falsehood, was what their opponents were accused of.) John Taylor’s demise was precisely the experience of the Latter-day Saint community at large. The good people were not given a trial at all let alone a fair trial.

2. History now paints Governor Ford of Illinois in 1844 as a neutral unbiased man trying his best to avert a civil war in his state. However, he clearly did nothing to protect Joseph and Hyrum Smith from certain death. In fact it appears that he cooperated at least in part if not fully with the bullies that stormed the Carthage jail on June 27, 1844. To top it off, the governor was sitting in Joseph’s chair in his home in Nauvoo speaking with his wife at the very moment of Joseph’s execution. It was again ironic that this incident had immediately followed the unabashed declaration to the citizens in Nauvoo that they were scoundrels who should act like saints if they were going to call themselves saints. From my perspective, Governor Ford was a man without spine. Again, the behavior of Governor Ford was indicative of government leaders throughout our country who made no effort to intercede.

Here is how it played out:

The Latter-day Saints’ epic evacuation from Nauvoo, in 1846, may be better understood by comparing it to a three-act play: Act 1, the winter exodus, was President Brigham Young’s well-known Camp of Israel trek across Iowa from March 1 to June 13, 1846 involving perhaps 3,000 Saints. The original plan was for spring departure, a well-organized preparation of wagons, supplies, livestock, etc. with appointed captains of companies of wagons. The winter was to be devoted to this necessary preparation. However, by the end of January, 1846, disturbing threats of attack, arrests, destruction of the Temple, stealing of wagons and even the Governor sending in troops to enforce arrest warrants forced the Church leaders to insist on immediate departure. This broke up the previous plan of organization, and what was expected to be a small, orderly group soon swelled to an unwieldy size. The winter departure caused family separations.

“We bade our children and friends goodbye and started for the West” wrote midwife Patty Sessions.

On February 4th, Nauvoo resident Charles Shumway ferried across the Mississippi River, starting the winter exodus. For three weeks, while temperatures plummeted, wagons ferried across, often dodging ice chunks, and then scores crossed on solid ice after Charles Rich walked across the Mississippi on February 25th.

Campfires burned constantly. “The wind blows, one can hardly get to the fire for the smoke,” Patty Sessions noted.

Eliza R. Snow wrote, “I was informed that on the first night of the encampment nine children were born into the world, and from that time, as we journeyed onward, mothers gave birth to offspring under almost every variety of circumstances imaginable, except those to which they were accustomed; some in tents, others in wagons—in rainstorms and in snowstorms... Let it be remembered that the mothers of these wilderness-born babes were not savages... Most of them were born and educated in the Eastern States—had embraced the gospel, and, for the sake of their religion, had gathered with the Saints and had a hand in making Nauvoo what its name indicated, ‘the beautiful.’ There they had lovely homes, decorated with flowers and enriched with choice fruit trees, just beginning to yield plentifully. To these homes, without lease or sale, they had just bade a final adieu, and had packed what little they could into a wagon and had started out, desert ward, for---where? At this time, the only response was, God knows.”

Sister Helen Mar Whitney, the mother of Apostle Orson F. Whitney, recorded with idealistic optimism: “I will pack away all my little ribbons, collars and laces, etc., for we are going where we cannot purchase them. We are going out from the world to live beyond where none others will wish to go. There will be neither rich nor poor among us, and we will have none but the honest and virtuous. Despite her optimism, her first three children died at or near birth—two of them during the exodus from Nauvoo.

Sister Bathsheba Smith recalled the evacuation of Nauvoo, she wrote: “My last act in that precious spot was to tidy the rooms, sweep up the floor and set the broom in its accustomed placed behind the door. Then with emotions in my heart I gently closed the door and faced an unknown future, faced it with faith in God.” She said, “I will not try to describe how we traveled through storms of snow, wind, and rain, how roads had to be made, bridges built, and rafts constructed; how our poor animals had to drag on day after day with scanty feed; nor how our camps suffered from poverty, sickness and death. We were consoled ... by having our public and private meetings in peace, praying and singing the songs of Zion, and rejoicing that we were leaving our persecutors far behind. We were further consoled by seeing the power of God manifested through the laying on of the hands of the elders, causing the sick to be healed, and the lame to walk. The Lord was with us and his power was made manifest daily.” Later in life, she became the fourth general Relief Society president.

Brigham Young captured the hardships endured by the Saints at this time when he said: “I might say something with regard to the hard times. You know that I have told you that if any one was afraid of starving to death, let him leave, and go where there is plenty. I do not apprehend the least danger of starving, for until we eat up the last mule, from the tip of the ear to the end of the fly whipper, I am not afraid of starving to death.”

Act II, the Spring Exodus. During April, May, and June of 1846, three times as many Saints left Nauvoo as went with President Young’s advance group. At least 10,000 evacuees left at this time. Economic, health, and family difficulties prevented these people from leaving sooner. Thousands had trouble obtaining adequate outfits and provisions.

Ethan Barrows wrote, “I could not sell my house and lot, nor any of my furniture.” The Leavitt family received only “a yoke of wild steers” for their “beautiful farm.” Amasa Lyman left in February, but his expectant wife, Maria, stayed behind, gave birth to a son, and left with her four children in June. People delayed, too, while waiting for relatives not ready, not willing to go, or not yet in Nauvoo.

News that Governor Ford would pull guard troops from Nauvoo on May 1st, leaving the Saints unprotected had caused “considerable excitement.” That report triggered a mass departure, the first of three large-scale evacuations that spring. On May 1st the temple was dedicated publicly by Elder Orson Hyde. In all, nearly 6,000 Latter-day Saints had received their temple ordinances in Nauvoo the previous winter.

In later months, Brigham Young would draw upon those temple experiences to help motivate the Saints during trying times. “Let the fire of the covenant which you made in the House of the Lord burn in your hearts, like flame unquenchable.” Elder White: On June 9th Saints were “rushing to the ferry in order to cross the river” because, as Lucius Scovil said, “the mob began to rage and threatened the Saints,” whipping some, shooting at others, and swearing at LDS herd boys. The regular and extra ferries were not “half enough” for the job. The mob gave the Saints a week to vacate Nauvoo.

 The typical outfit was a fully loaded covered wagon pulled by “two yoke of oxen, milk cows, two-year-old steers and heifers, and very few horses and mules.” Drivers “were of both sexes and comprised both the old and the young.” Wagons had few passengers. “The people who could walk did so, and many were engaged in driving loose stock... a daily challenge.”

Sometimes the camp “would meet in a sociable dance in the evenings, to drive dull care away.”

Act III: The Fall Exodus. By September only 700 to 1,000 Saints who wanted to go west were still in the city, some being new arrivals. Many lacked wagons and teams. Some were too ill to travel. On September 13, armed anti-Mormons attacked the remaining Nauvoo defenders and won what is called the Battle of Nauvoo. The Saints signed a formal surrender of the city three days later, whereupon victors drove them out at gunpoint. LDS refugees swarmed across the river to Montrose.

Many, like the Stillman Pond family, crossed Iowa on their own. Along the way the Ponds suffered from malaria, buried four children, including a baby born during the trek. Stillman was so sick he had to drive the wagon by lying on his stomach, peering through a knothole in the front board, and holding reins with one hand over the board.

Hyrum Smith’s widow, Mary Fielding Smith, left about the time of the Battle of Nauvoo. Her daughter Martha Ann, age 5, recalled, “We bid goodbye to our dear old feeble grandmother (Lucy Mack Smith). I can never forget the bitter tears she shed when she bid us goodbye.”

Soon after this final exodus, Colonel Thomas L. Kane visited Nauvoo and described the abandoned city: “The town lay as in a dream, under some deadening spell of loneliness, from which I almost feared to wake it. For plainly it had not slept long. There was not grass growing in the paved ways. Rains had not entirely washed away the prints of dusty footsteps ... The spinner’s wheel was idle; the carpenter had gone from his work-bench and shavings . . . as if he had just gone off for a holiday. The quiet was ... such that I heard flies buzz. If I went into the gardens, clinking the wicket-latch loudly after me... and draw a drink with the water sodden well-bucket and its noisy chain... no one called out to me from any open window, or dog sprang forward to bark an alarm. The doors were unfastened; and when at last I timidly entered them, I found dead ashes white upon the hearths, and had to tread a tiptoe, as if walking down the aisle of a country church to avoid rousing irreverent echoes from the naked floors.”

Poem by Susan Easton Black Durrant
“Gone but not forgotten are the days of Old Nauvoo,
Days when prophets bid saints and sinners adieu.
Home and shops, the temple, the saga does tell,
Nauvoo, the Beautiful, in ruin, Farewell.”

Why would a God of love allow this atrocity if these people were indeed His followers? My observation is that the predicament in Nauvoo served as a testing ground for many victims of extreme hatred to prove their faith and love for the Savior and His gospel. It was also a test for those who disagreed with gospel principles outside their own beliefs. How far would they go when intolerant for others' religious differences.

Now posterity remains from both groups. Can it be different this time? Can we put our differences aside and learn to get along and even love each other? Truly, that's how we'll overcome the destroyer of good don't you think?

May I offer you my testimony that God lives. He loves all his children which includes you. There is more to life than to merely live and then die. It is indeed a testing ground for each of us. How will we respond in any given situation? Ultimately, the choices we make will determine what type of character we will become.

I invite you to do as I will try to do this year—Be a little kinder avoiding any sort of bullying and therefore be a little more like our Savior.
Cameramen shooting the parade
(It was friendly shooting this time. :)  )

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