Updated: Jul 22, 2021
Today on Feb 4 we remember how the Church of the Latter Day Saints left their wintering grounds in search of a safe place to establish themselves. We look at their two founders, the mercurial Joseph Smith and Brigham Young who soon was compared to Moses. Their encounter with a Jesuit missionary and explorer and how it lead them to the Valley of the Salt Lake. We also explore a little their reputation in the States of being successful and 'clean-living' businessmen and women.
Today Brigham Young led a group of Mormon pioneers out of their temporary winter quarters in Nebraska and started a journey, to what would become the Utah Territory. The Mormons had been founded by Joseph Smith who had published the Book of Mormon at the age of 24. Growing up in Western New York during a period of intense religious revival and emotional preaching, called The Second Great Awakening, Smith claimed to have experienced visions. In one of them, he said an angel directed him to a buried book of golden plates inscribed with a Judeo-Christian history of an ancient American civilization. His publication of an English translation of these plates called the Book of Mormon. Smith was one of the most influential, charismatic, and innovative figures in American religious history, but he was also very divisive, especially after his promotion of polygamy and some see him as a fraud. However, he is also considered to be a prophet by many Mormons, and many leaders in history, with questionable moral behaviour have also achieved good things as well as many crimes. After Smiths death, alongside his brother, in a shootout, his successor Brigham Young is a more straightforward figure to understand historically
Young continued the tradition of polygamy with 55 wives, but as a successful and wealthy businessman and the first governor of Utah, he provided more stable foundations for the growth of the Church of the Latter-Day Saints as they are now known. Young also encouraged a culture of self-sufficiency, which has given many Mormons a solid grounding and reputation as clean businessmen and women in America. Partly due to the mercurial nature of Joseph Smith, members of the new Church were often harshly treated by their neighbours, partially due to their religious beliefs, but often as a reaction against the actions and the words of the church leaders and members, and they had a history of moving after overstaying their welcome, to Ohio, Missouri, Illinois. Brigham Young called for the church members to organize and head West, beyond the western frontier of the United States. They obtained permission to winter on Indian territory, this stay in the winter quarters was a traumatic experience with 359 deaths by the spring. The remaining Mormons, led by Brigham Young, met the famed Jesuit missionary Pierre De Smet near Council Bluffs. Father De Smet spent his life among the Sioux Indians, travelling nearly 200, 000 miles and mapping much of his explorations in the Mid-West and North West. He was affectionately known as "Friend of Sitting Bull", and had persuaded the Sioux war chief to participate in negotiations with the American government for the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie. The Mormon travellers asked many questions about his travels across the West and were impressed with his description of the Great Salt Lake. This led them to found Salt Lake City and establish themselves as a theocracy. Brigham Young is known as the ‘American Moses’ for leading them there, however relations with the authorities over such issues as polygamy and the theocratic government lead to the Utah Mormon War which ended with the arrival of a non-Mormon governor and the resignation of Young as head of both church and state. Utah entered the Union in 1896. Polygamy was finally abolished in 1890, and today, there are some 14 million members around the world, with Mormon missionaries sent out to many different countries.