Pioneer song inspires generations

It appears almost as an afterthought entry in William Clayton's journal under the date, "Wednesday 15th. This morning I composed a new song, All is Well."1

Such a statement would attract attention in most journals. In William's journal it is all the more surprising because, in spite of his being a superb musician, this is the first reference to song-writing. More critically, however, the title "All is well" reveals an emotional calming which he has experienced for, suddenly, all appears to be well in his life. William, by expressing his own innermost feelings in song, succeeded in capturing the uncertainty, courage, faith and feelings of other pioneers and pioneers in all ages even to the present time.William wrote the words to the song which so much of the world knows and loves as the hymn and anthem "Come, Come, Ye Saints," in private moments that he found in a very busy day at Locust Creek, Iowa, under the most emotionally and physically stressful and trying circumstances imaginable.

The William Clayton family, with nine members in two personal wagons, was part of the 500-wagon Camp of Israel under the leadership of Brigham Young.2 On April, 15, 1846, William was into his 46th day of wending his way over countless hills and traversing sloughs, marshes and streams through a stretch of Iowa that President Young himself described as one continuous mudhole. As many as 20 wagons at once were mired up to the wagon boxes in mud.

It had rained, hailed and snowed a fourth of the time. Even horses were up to their bellies in mud as men on horseback tried to maneuver and scout better trails. Just a few fair but bitterly cold days had broken up one of the wettest springs in recent Iowa memory.

Music was one of William's loves. Thus, it was with sadness that he repeatedly tried to trade his music box for a desperately needed cow. He was proficient in the violin, horn, drums and piano. This passion was turned into a money-raising venture across Iowa as he scheduled concerts and performances for the company band. The funds bought much needed corn to feed the animals. William Pitt, John Kay and others joined to encourage others through the spiritual uplift of music, while, simultaneously benefiting from a rekindling of their own faith.

William Clayton was the clerk for the entire Camp of Israel and supervised all of the clerks of the groups of Fifty. Additionally, he was the primary scribe for President Young and Church councils, and assisted other brethren in keeping their journals. In his clerical role he was responsible for overseeing, in addition to his own wagons, 15 wagons and teamsters carrying property of the Church. His responsibility was to ensure that there was food for the teamsters and fodder for the draft animals and that the goods remained dry. Hosea Stout recorded on March 24, "Today was chilling rain and snow all day no feed in camp today for the beasts and also more than half of the men out of provisions."3

The weight of responsibility upon his shoulders was great that pre-dawn morning of April 15 as he had found that cattle and horses, without proper guard during the night, had broken into the tents and wagons. The weather had been miserable, causing many to sleep on wet ground and to be pelted with continual rain and wind that toppled the tents. Many of the Saints were sick, due to the harsh weather and inadequate living conditions of leaky tents and wagons, and deaths were occurring.

William, himself, had been sick with first a cold, then aches and horrible chest pain and discomfort for over two weeks. Nevertheless, as he records, "yet the camp seems in good spirits." Personally, he was suffering from anxiety for his young wife, Diantha, whom he had left in Nauvoo because she was a month from delivery of her first child and was now definitely overdue.

In the process of making the rounds that morning he was informed, by others who had received letters from the couriers from Nauvoo, that "Diantha has a son a fine fat boy but that she was very sick with ague and mumps." William was simultaneously relieved about young Moroni, but concerned about his precious Diantha. This news was already 15 days old when he received it. He recorded his thoughts, "Truly I feel to rejoice" and in this state of jubilation he made time to compose "All is well."

The title and refrain of the song reveal his emotional composure, as he now sincerely felt "all is well."

That evening additional celebration took place as the band, with his violin joining in, had a pleasant time playing. All rejoiced in the health of his son and then William records: "I feel to thank my heavenly father for my boy and pray that he will spare and preserve his life and that of his mother and so order it so that we may soon meet again. O Lord bless thine hand maid and fill her with thy spirit, make her healthy that her life may be prolonged and that we may live upon the earth and honor the cause of truth."

The song "All is Well" came to be universally used by the pioneers to soften the hardships and bolster their courage and faith in the trek westward. After completing the trek westward as a member of the first Pioneer Company in July 1847, Clayton returned in the fall to Winter Quarters where his family had remained. Surely Clayton was present across the Missouri River in Kanesville, Iowa, at the jubilee conference that convened on Christmas Eve day, 1847, when his "song" was first sung at a general conference of the Church. The setting was the new log tabernacle, "the biggest log-cabin in the world," which seated 1,000.

In the early afternoon "Come, Come, Ye Saints" was sung, accompanied by

the Winter Quarters band, followed by the sustaining of the new First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints - President Brigham Young with his counselors, Heber C. Kimball and Willard Richards.4

It is proper, perhaps, that "Come, Come, Ye Saints," is the only currently used hymn composed during the 1846-1848 emigration period of the Church as its words so completely reflect the sentiment of the westwarding Saints. The first words are a call to the Saints, wherever they might be to "Come, come" together. This most likely was a reflection of the Lord's admonition in D&C 124:25 given in 1838 "let all my saints come from afar" to Zion.

William Clayton had responded to that call, coming from England. In his scribe capacity he especially would have been aware of Brigham Young's words to Orson Spencer in England in 1847, "Say to the saints, Come."5

The concept of calling upon the Saints to "come" to Zion had been a constant theme, and Clayton's use of the phrase in his hymn could apply equally to Zion or to a united group such as a pioneer company.

Elder Robert L. Backman extends the meaning even into the present time: "

ItT is a rally cry for us today. Come, come let us work, share, live and forgive each other. Let us bind up the wounds of hatred; overcome the creeds and philosophies that divide us as peoples of the world. The prejudice, hatred, war, unfair advantage that make our planet a purgatory instead of a paradise. Let us work together for a better world. Come, come all of us. No toil nor labor fear, but with joy wend our way."6

The pioneers had to adapt to all physically challenging circumstances without fear. In spite of obstacles, they learned to wend their way over hills and through streams, with joy. They found how to expel all meaningless cares from the mind and focus on the critical needs of the present. The circumstances were hard and it was easy to contemplate giving up and returning east. They constantly had to renew their courage and persevere, knowing that God would not forsake them and soon all would be well. Steadfastly they maintained faith that God indeed had prepared a place for them far out west and that the persecutors of the past would no longer be able to hurt them. They knew that this new place would be blessed and that they would make the air ring with music and uplift praises to God, and declare that all is well. And, if they were to die in the attempt that all still would be well, for there would be no toil and sorrow and they would dwell with the just. If, however, their lives were spared and they were allowed to be with the Saints, again, how unitedly they would rejoice in chorus, singing "All is Well!" What glorious faith, hope and optimism is expressed in these verses.

"Come, Come, Ye Saints" has been included in every Church hymnal since 1851. President Heber J. Grant selected it as his favorite hymn and shared the sentiment of his father-in-law, Oscar Winters, who said, "I believe that the young people of Zion do not thoroughly appreciate what Brother Clayton's hymn meant to us, as we sang it, night after night, crossing the plains." Brother Winters went on to share the story of a solitary man in his company who was late coming into camp one evening. "When he arrived, we unyoked his cattle and helped him to get his supper. He had been quite sick and had to lie down by the road, a time or two. After supper he sat down on a large rock, by the camp fire, and sang the hymn, "Come, Come, Ye Saints." He sang the hymn very beautifully, but with a weak and plaintive voice, and yet with the spirit and inspiration of the hymn. The next morning we discovered that he had died during the night."7 His song had obviously been both a call for support as well as a statement of testimony by him as he extended the call to others to come, join and band together and share mutual strength and give him of their strength and faith in this moment of need.

Mary Noble Pay, the grandmother of Marjorie Pay Hinckley, wife of President Gordon B. Hinckley, wrote of the comfort and encouragement that this hymn played in the lives of members of the John Hunt company in 1856: "We traveled on till we got to the Platte River. That was the last walk I ever had with my mother. We caught up with handcart companies that day. We watched them cross the river. There were great lumps of ice floating down the river. It was bitter cold. The next morning there were fourteen dead in camp through the cold. We went back to camp and went to prayers. They sang, "Come, Come, Ye Saints, No Toil Nor Labor Fear." I wondered what made my mother cry. That night my mother took sick, and the next morning my little sister was born. It was the 23rd of September. We named her Edith, and she lived six weeks and died for want of nourishment.8"

Today, translated into many languages, this hymn readily identifies Mormons and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints wherever it is sung worldwide. In 1955 when the Tabernacle Choir was on its European tour, it sang an anthem version of "Come, Come, Ye Saints," arranged by J. Spencer Cornwall, in every concert. Surprisingly, it was encored every time it was sung. The repetitive phrase, "All is well" appeared to even be understood by the refugees in Berlin who were without work, home, food and even citizenship. Obviously, nothing was "well" with them, and yet it gave them inspiration to persevere and have faith, and they, too, encored this grand old hymn.9

"Come, Come, Ye Saints" has been compared favorably with two of the great hymns of the world, "Frances La Marseilaise" and Martin Luther's "A Mighty Fortress is Our God."

In 1978 President Jimmy Carter gave a speech in the Salt Lake Tabernacle and said: "I thought about the early Mormons coming across this country, singing a famous hymn Come, Come, Ye Saints.' Only a deep faith could let the words of that songAll is well' ring out. In times when you and your forefathers were persecuted and driven one from another,

when youT crossed this land looking for freedom and a chance to worship in your own way, when perhaps you knew that you were about to die, when drought and thirst affected you, and still the song rang out, `All is well!' This is indeed a demonstration of faith and a reaffirmation of hope"10

Others, not of our faith, notice the vigor and conviction with which we sing this favorite hymn. Hugh McKeller said: "If you listen to a group to which you do not belong by birth or by belief, and they begin to sing their bedrock hymn, even in a language you don't know, you will notice a change in the quality of their sound. It becomes more intense, as though they were connecting with the core of their identity." They go on to add that we have taken the hymn so thoroughly into our hearts that no one else can use it without thinking of us and the trials of our pioneers.11

The theme of the Pioneer Sesquicentennial Celebration that commemorates the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the pioneers into the Salt Lake Valley is "Faith in Every Footstep."

Our pioneers exhibited great faith even when confronted with laying down their life and being numbered among the 6,000 Saints who came as far as they could and never set foot into the valley. Even in such heart-rending moments, the refrain from this hymn served as an expression of abiding faith in a cause greater than any single individual.

Jedediah M. Grant was captain over a company that made the trek in 1848. His six-month old daughter Margaret died of cholera and his wife, Caroline, weakened by cholera, contracted mountain fever. Susan Noble, a young woman of 15, took care of two year-old Caddie. In Susan's words: "About midnight Sister Grant rallied a little and whispered, Susan Caddie.' I sprang up so quickly when I was called that I woke the little girl, who opened her big eyes and stared about on every side. In a moment we were both by the bed, while Caddie kissed her mama and tried to huddle into the covers. Sister Grant looked at us knowingly; then as she contently closed her eyes again and seemed to be sinking, I heard her whisper to Jedediah,All is well! All is well! Please take me to the Valley, Jeddy. Get baby Margaret, bring her to me!' Brother Grant answered tenderly as he sobbed with sorrow,`Yes, yes, Caroline. I'll do my best. I'll do my best' "12 She died a short time later.

"Come, Come, Ye Saints" gives meaning to being of pioneer heritage. William Clayton was not content with simply bringing his loved ones west, but he helped thousands of others through song to endure, published The Latter-day Saints Emigrants Guide, traversed the trail five times and made three Atlantic crossings bringing others to Zion. What a marvelous, unselfish pioneer he was!

"Pioneer is by definition one who breaks new ground; who blazes his own trail; who moves and motivates himself and thereby lights the way and smoothes the path of those who follow him."6 New vistas are ever before us as pioneering in the kingdom of God continues daily, into the future, worldwide with Faith in Every Footstep.

Gordon W. Romney is the executive secretary of the Church Pioneer Sesquicentennial Committee.


1William Clayton's Journal, The Deseret News, Salt Lake City, Utah 1921.

2Paul E. Dahl, William Clayton Missionary, Pioneer and Public Servant, Cedar City, Utah 1959, p. 64.

3The Diary of Hosea Stout, Volume 1, University of Utah Press, Salt Lake City, Utah 1964, p. 141.

4Richard E. Bennett, Mormons at the Missouri, 1846-1852 "And Should We Die", University of Oklahoma Press, Normon, Okla. 1987, pp. 212-3.

5Ibid, p. 215-6.

6Robert L. Backman, You and Your World, The Pioneer in Each of Us, July 18, 1982.

7Heber J. Grant, Conference Report 1919, p.6.

8Susan Arrington Madsen, I Walked to Zion, Deseret Book Co., Salt Lake City, Utah 1994, p. 93.

9J. Spencer Cornwall, Story of Our Hymns, Deseret Book Co., Salt Lake City, Utah 1975, p. 19.

10Paul E. Dahl, BYU Studies 21 4 Fall 1981, BYU Press, Provo, Utah, p. 526.

11The Anglican, June 1993, p. 16.

12[8] p. 101

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