Saturday, July 10, 2010

Pioneer Day

The significance of Pioneer Days in Utah.
The first company of Mormon pioneers, led by Brigham Young, officially entered the Valley of the Great Salt Lake on 24 July 1847. For Latter-day Saints, this event has come to signal the founding of a new homeland for the purpose of establishing their earthly Zion.

In all of United States history, few people have suffered for their religious convictions as did the early Latter-day Saints. Because of the rapid growth of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and what many contemporary religionists viewed as the heretical doctrine of living prophets and modern revelation, many outsiders viewed Latter-day Saints with suspicion and contempt. During the first two decades of the Church's existence, Latter-day Saints repeatedly experienced the cycle of migration, settlement (including purchasing the lands they settled in), and expulsion. Within the span of 17 years, the fast-growing body of Latter-day Saints moved en masse from the Finger Lakes region of western New York State (1830-1831), to Kirtland, Ohio (1831-1838), Jackson County, Missouri (1831-1839) and Commerce/Nauvoo, Illinois (1839-1848), where their prophet, Joseph Smith, was murdered by a mob. In the dead of winter 1846, the Latter-day Saints once again abandoned their homes and began the long, hard trek to the Rocky Mountains, where they would at last find welcome refuge.

Extermination Order

Following eight years of convergence and settlement by thousands of Latter-day Saint converts in northern Missouri, tensions with neighboring communities reached a climax. On 27 October 1838, Missouri Governor Lilburn W. Boggs signed one of the most heinous documents in American history, his Mormon "extermination order," declaring, "The Mormons must be treated as enemies, and must be exterminated, or driven from the State, if necessary for the public peace" (quoted in History of the Church, 3:175). This military directive called for the forced mid-winter exodus from Missouri of approximately 10,000 men, women and children from their own farms, homes, and lands. On 25 June 1976, Missouri Governor Christopher S. Bond issued an executive order rescinding the Extermination Order, noting its legal invalidity and formally apologizing in behalf of the state of Missouri for the suffering it had caused the Latter-day Saints. By the fall of 1845, preparations for the exodus were well under way; the proposed departure date would be, in the words of Brigham Young, "as soon as the grass grows" (quoted in Wallace Stegner, The Gathering of Zion: The Story of the Mormon Trail, [1964], 38) in the following spring. But the mobs wouldn't rest. On 4 February 1846, in the heart of a Midwestern winter so cold and bitter the Mississippi River froze over; the Latter-day Saints were driven from their homes and lands down a street which came to be known as the "Street of Tears" and into the unknown mystery of the western frontier. Arrival in the Salt Lake Valley had a special meaning to each emigrant. For many it signified the end of their arduous journey. They had endured to the end of the Mormon Trail, and their participation in that memorable trek gave metaphor and meaning to life itself. Even for those who were not Latter-day Saints, the first glimpse of this broad, open valley after such hardship provided a deeply emotional moment. The trek from Nauvoo, Illinois to the Salt Lake Valley was 1,297 miles. Many of the pioneers made the trek on foot while pushing handcarts that held their few meager belongings.
1 in 6 perished along the route. Despite the trials and hardships of the forced trek, the Latter Day Saints remained upbeat. In the evenings they would gather together and frequently sang hymns. Come, Come, Ye Saints became their anthem on their journey to the Salt Lake Valley.

Come, come, ye saints, no toil nor labor fear;
But with joy wend your way.
Though hard to you this journey may appear,
Grace shall be as your day.
Tis better far for us to strive our useless cares from us to drive;
Do this, and joy your hearts will swell -
All is well! All is well!

Why should we mourn or think our lot is hard?
'Tis not so; all is right.
Why should we think to earn a great reward if we now shun the fight?
Gird up your loins; fresh courage take.
Our God will never us forsake;
And soon we'll have this tale to tell-
All is well! All is well!

We'll find the place which God for us prepared,
Far away, in the West,
Where none shall come to hurt or make afraid;
There the saints, will be blessed.
We'll make the air, with music ring, Shout praises to our God and King;
Above the rest these words we'll tell -
All is well! All is well!

And should we die before our journey's through,
Happy day! All is well!
We then are free from toil and sorrow, too;
With the just we shall dwell!
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!