Joseph F. Smith, revered as the sixth president of the Church, was a boy of 8 when he set out to cross the plains to the Mountain West from Nauvoo, Ill., with his mother, Mary Fielding Smith.
Now, a new Joseph F. Smith Memorial Grove, dedicated July 24, 2000, honors that boy pioneer who grew to be the Lord's spokesman, and his valiant mother, the widow of Hyrum Smith who was martyred at Carthage, Ill., with his brother, the Prophet Joseph Smith.
The dedication at This Is the Place Heritage Park in the mouth of Emigration Canyon in Salt Lake City was a prominent event in this year's Pioneer Day celebration that observes the coming of Brigham Young and the first pioneer company to the Salt Lake Valley on July 24, 1847.
President Gordon B. Hinckley was scheduled to dedicate the new attraction, but a summer cold kept him home. In his stead, Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve gave the dedicatory prayer. He was an appropriate substitute, as he is a great-grandson of President Smith.
Gov. Michael O. Leavitt of Utah accepted the memorial grove on behalf of the state.
Hundreds of Smith family descendants were among more than a thousand spectators who gathered at the base of the famous This Is the Place Monument, marking the location where Brigham Young and the Pioneers entered the valley. It was the donations and efforts of the descendants that made the new memorial grove possible.
Some 400 Boy Scouts, each bearing the flag of the United States, formed an honor guard, a striking visual effect lining a pathway on which Elder Ballard, the governor and senior Smith Family descendants were taken by golf cart to a new Eagle Gate Archway at the entrance to the park's Old Deseret Village. At the entrance, Elder Ballard and Gov. Leavitt boarded a restored, turn-of-the-century carriage that President Smith owned in Salt Lake City.
Followed by spectators, they rode to the site of the new grove, where they ceremonially planted a lilac bush. The young bush is a cutting that descends from a lilac bush that grew in front of the Hyrum Smith home in Kirtland, Ohio. As Hyrum's family moved first to Missouri, then to Nauvoo, cuttings from the bush went with them. Finally Mary Fielding Smith brought cuttings with her to the Salt Lake Valley, and they have been nurtured for more than 150 years by descendants.
Also at the grove are oak trees from acorns descending from trees that grew in Nauvoo 150 years ago.
The lilac bush and trees were planted in the yard of Mary Fielding Smith's reconstructed 1848 cabin at the memorial grove site. Some of the adobe brick composing the cabin is from the original home, which stood in the Millcreek area of the Salt Lake Valley at about 2700 South and just above 1100 East.
Behind the cabin is being constructed a shed for permanent display of President Smith's carriage that carried Elder Ballard and the governor.
Situated on an eastward knoll apart from the other historic structures and attractions of Old Deseret Village, the memorial grove is a placid setting characterized by a natural amphitheater and a duck pond, with a sweeping view of the Salt Lake Valley below.
In the dedication, Elder Ballard asked that the grove would be "a place of peace and solace where love will exude one to another, where people of all persuasions may feel comfortable to come and sit together and talk about things that are eternal, precious and important for this life and the life to come."
In remarks prior to the prayer, Elder Ballard said President Hinckley and President Joseph F. Smith are very much alike.
President Smith, said Elder Ballard, "was a great teacher as President Hinckley is. His sermons are wonderful, clarifying teachings of the doctrines of our Heavenly Father.
"I see in both of these great prophets . . . peacemakers, men who wanted to do everything they could to unite the community, unite the people, cause all to enjoy a happier and a better life."
He added, "We hope that the spirit of the Joseph F. Smith Memorial Grove will linger in the hearts of those who come and just enjoy that quiet, peaceful place many, many times."
Gov. Leavitt, in accepting the grove as an addition to the park, said the park "is about our [pioneer] heritage.
"Whether you have been a Utahn for five days or five generations, this is your heritage," he said. "It is the substance and stuff with which this state was made."
Speaking on behalf of This Is the Place Foundation, Heidi S. Swinton said: "Joseph F. Smith's example and influence reached beyond his faith and followers. When he died, the streets of Salt Lake were thronged with citizens, non-Mormon and Mormon, who lined up to honor him. As the cortege rumbled up South Temple to the Salt Lake City Cemetery, the bells in the Catholic Cathedral of the Madeleine tolled in the tower."
Joseph W. Smith, a grandson of President Smith, said young Joseph F., like other pioneer boys "had to mature and grow up when they were very young. Some were even too small to saddle a horse or harness oxen. They didn't have much chance to be coddled. They had to learn obedience, responsibility, unselfishness and awareness. These young pioneers learned to be awake and sensitive to the needs and desires of their families. They simply had to be big boys and do it."
Stephen M. Studdert, chairman of the board of trustees of This Is the Place Foundation, said: "Joseph F. Smith was born Nov. 13, 1838, the year a mob told his mother she would never see his father Hyrum Smith again. As a baby, he almost suffocated when a gang of thieves threw a mattress on top of him as they ransacked the family home."
Brother Studdert, who is president of the Highland Utah East Stake, added, "When he was 5, his father was murdered by a mob. As an 8-year-old boy, he walked all the way from Nauvoo to the Valley of the Great Salt Lake with his mother."
In a conversation at the memorial grove site, Sister Swinton said: "This area is designed to have family reunions, testimony meetings, gatherings of youth groups. We're hoping stakes will take advantage of it, that groups from the community from different faiths will come up here."