Simpson's Hollow events recalled

After suffering at the hands of state militia in Missouri and Illinois, early members of the Church were dismayed to find that an army of United States soldiers had been sent to the Utah Territory, where the Saints had hoped to find lasting peace.

The decision by President Brigham Young and other Church leaders on July 24, 1857, to harass the federal troops and try to delay their arrival in the Salt Lake Valley was "a desperate move by a desperate people," said President Gordon B. Hinckley. "They did not wish to be punished by reason of the false tales of officials who had been sent to Utah by the government."President Hinckley spoke July 5 at Simpson's Hollow, Wyo., one of the sites where a small handful of Latter-day Saint raiders burned government supply wagons to deprive the army of much-needed food and clothing 140 years ago. He also dedicated historic markers commemorating events at the site.

Also speaking during the ceremony was historian Stanley Kimball, a history professor at Southern Illinois University, who gave a brief outline of the Church's clash with Johnston's Army.

Several thousand spectators sat in the hot sun on a Wyoming hillside to hear President Hinckley and to watch a re-enactment of the Simpson's Hollow burning of the wagons. The Church leader characterized the day as "hot as the burning wagons." A choir of youth from the Green River and Rock Springs stakes greeted him with a spontaneous rendering of "We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet" as he emerged from his car. Additional music by children of the 1997 Sesquicentennial Mormon Trail Wagon Train Re-enactment featured an original song by one of the children involved in the wagon train.

Members of the commemorative wagon train were among those who watched the re-enactment, although the events commemorated occurred 10 years after the historic era they represent. Wagons from the train were perched atop the hill where the drama took place, creating an effective "frame" for the action.

President Hinckley and Brother Kimball both spoke of the history of Utah's clash with the army of Col. (later Gen.) Albert Sidney Johnston and its aftermath. U.S. President James Buchanan sent Johnston with 2,000 men to Utah based on rumors brought to Washington, D.C. by "gentiles" who had been appointed to government positions in the Utah Territory. The men returned to the capital with tales that the LDS people were in a state of rebellion that would hamper American prospects for settling the West.

President Young reacted to the news of an impending invasion of federal soldiers by moving thousands of Saints out of Salt Lake Valley, preparing the city for burning if necessary and authorizing Gen. Daniel H. Wells of the Nauvoo Legion to send men to Wyoming to hound the Army and stall its progress.

President Hinckley explained that the army came with "boasting on the lips of the soldiers . . . of what they would do to the Mormons when they reached the Salt Lake Valley. The members of the Church had lived through this kind of action in the past, . . . both in Missouri and in Illinois. State militia in both cases became mobs which drove them out of Missouri and drove them out of Illinois and they determined that they would not suffer it again."

The events at Simpson's Hollow were the result of that determination. Members of the Nauvoo Legion, led by Lot Smith, destroyed 23 wagons with supplies valued at that time at $80,000. Such attacks ultimately kept Johnston in Wyoming for the winter of 1857-58, allowing negotiators to defuse the volatile situation.

The man who left his name, somewhat in ignominy, at the shallow site between hills in Wyoming was Lewis Simpson, leader of the supply wagon that Lot Smith's men burned. He was a son-in-law of one of the owners of the train, private contractors who had contracted to provide Johnston's army with food, clothing and other needed supplies. He was shamed into relinquishing his firearm to Smith, and couldn't talk the Utahns into leaving his wagons intact. The day before, Smith and his raiders had burned about twice that number of wagons at a nearby Wyoming site.

President Hinckley praised Lot Smith, the leader of the Utah Militia (Nauvoo Legion) for fulfilling the mandate of President Young to stymie the movement of Johnston's troops toward Utah Territory. Smith followed his orders not to kill anyone, but effectively staged forays on wagon trains and animal herds, President Hinckley said.

As a result, Johnston's army built Camp Scott 12 miles from Fort Bridger in Wyoming and there stayed the winter, President Hinckley related. "It was a terrible, terrible winter. They suffered tremendously as anyone would in this part of the country."

Speaking of the actions of the early Church leaders and members, the Church president added: "The cost was great. The risk was tremendous, but the result is that this was a remarkable piece of work done in a peaceable way and the results that came of it were salutary and proved to be a great blessing to the people."

The U.S. troops eventually marched peacefully through Salt Lake City the following summer and set up Camp Floyd, southwest of the city in Utah County. "I would like to submit that this, in my judgment, represents one of the great dramatic events in the history of the West," President Hinckley declared. "I am grateful for our people who did what they did in the desperate circumstances in which they found themselves and finally worked out a compromise and reconciliation which brought peace."

About a half dozen of the actors who staged a re-enactment of the wagon burning at Simpson's Hollow trace their ancestry back to Lot Smith, the "Utah War" hero. (See separate article on this page.)

At the close of the dedication, President Hinckley called on the audience to wave farewell to the wagon train as it moved on to its evening campsite on the Green River. The train has seen remarkable progress since he sent them off with his blessing in Omaha, Neb., more than two months ago, he said.

The following day, a symbolic re-enactment of the crossing of the Green River took place at the Lombard Ferry site west of the town of Green River. Five of the train's wagons were carried across the river on a ferry constructed by Forrest Cramer, a member of the wagon train and of the Pinedale (Wyo.) Ward. The ferry will be donated by the ward to the Bureau of Land Management to be part of a memorial to the many river crossings made by pioneers headed to western destinations.

The procession of wagons, handcarts and walkers, several thousand strong, is expected to enter Utah on July 14. A gala celebration at Henefer will welcome the trekkers to the state, but access to the train will be severely restricted when they get into the mountains preparatory to entering the Salt Lake Valley on July 22.

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