The Iowa portion of the Mormon Pioneer Trail - a saga of epic proportions - was the focus of the Grand Encampment celebration July 12-13, a celebration that took its name from the huge pioneer encampment on the eastern banks of the Missouri River in 1846.
For thousands, the Grand Encampment of 150 years ago signalled the end of the Iowa trek, said to be the hardest part of the entire pioneer journey.The spiritual highlight of the two-day commemoration was an outdoor devotional July 13 on the campus of the Iowa School for the Deaf, at which President Gordon B. Hinckley delivered a major address about the pioneers.
The campus was the site of the beginning of the Grand Encampment. President Hinckley spoke of a bridge that Dr. William Johnson, director of the school, had built over a creek on the campus, which was the place of an original bridge a century-and-a-half ago.
"He has planted all that area in the prairie grasses that once grew here so tall and abundantly and beautiful, and placed markers as a reminder of what occurred here," President Hinckley said in thanking Dr. Johnson. "It is a significant and most unselfish declaration of friendship for our people."
Some 12,500 people, about a third of whom were estimated to be non-members of the Church, attended the devotional. The grounds were packed with people. They sat in lawn chairs and on blankets on the grass. Many were standing and some were leaning against the trees. Many were dressed in clothing fashioned after the pioneer era.
The podium was on a gigantic stage. The proceedings were televised onto a stadium-size screen and the sound was carried throughout the grounds through huge loudspeakers.
"This is historic ground," declared President Hinckley. "This is hallowed ground. This is ground where our forebears lived for a season."
President Hinckley spoke of the many settlements, communities and cities begun by Mormon pioneers from the Midwest to the Pacific Coast. "My brethren and sisters," he declared, "you have in your veins either by descent or adoption the blood of heroes. I don't hesitate to say that, I know it is so. How thankful I am for those who have gone before."
Other speakers included Elder Hugh W. Pinnock, a member of the Seventy and first counselor in the North America Central Area presidency; and Steve Young, star quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, a descendant of Brigham Young who represented the Young family.
Holding up his hand, President Hinckley executed in American Sign Language the sign for "I love you," and then said, "I love you. I love you. That is universal in all languages. I love you and I mean that in a very, very real way."
President Hinckley told of the conditions under which William Clayton wrote the words of "Come, Come, Ye Saints" along the pioneer trail and recited some of the lyrics.
That hymn, President Hinckley said, "became the theme song of our people crossing the plains, of the tens of thousands who moved through here, this place of grand encampment, this very soil on which you sit this evening. And I tell you it is a reminder of greatness. It is a reminder of faith. It is a reminder of loyalty to one another and to God. It is a reminder of fidelity to a great purpose. It is a reminder of covenants made concerning our relationship to God our Eternal Father and our beloved Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ."
President Hinckley said he was glad that so many people had come to attend the anniversary event at Council Bluffs. At all the events that were held, the total attendance was about 30,000.
Commenting on Brigham Young's boldness in leading people out of the security and comfort of their homes in Nauvoo into a wilderness, President Hinckley noted: "It was not just a migration of a little handful. There were thousands of them and more were coming all the time from the British Isles and from the lands of Europe. To move them to a place they had never seen in reality, a place where a crop had never been grown . . . was a most bold thing.
"Was he a prophet?" President Hinckley asked. "There isn't the slightest doubt in my mind he was a prophet. Was he a man of vision? There isn't the slightest doubt in my mind that he had a heavenly vision. There can be no doubt that he was a man of tremendous purpose and tremendous faith and tremendous courage."
He read and commented on portions of the revelation given to Brigham Young at Winter Quarters, across the river from Council Bluffs, on Jan. 14, 1847, as recorded in Section 136 of the Doctrine and Covenants:
- Let all the people of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and those who journey with them, be organized into companies, with a covenant and promise to keep all the commandments and statutes of the Lord our God. (v. 2.)
"May I remind you," President Hinckley said, "that we are still pioneers in this Church. We are reaching out across the world. We are now established in more than 150 nations with a membership of 9,700,000. We are pioneering still. Let us in our efforts go forward with a . . . promise to keep all the commandments and statutes of the Lord our God."
- Let the companies be organized with captains of hundreds, captains of fifties, and captains of tens, with a president and his two counselors at their head, under the direction of the Twelve Apostles. (v. 3.)
"This was an organized movement," President Hinckley observed. "It wasn't a rag-tag kind of exodus from Illinois into Iowa. It was not a disorganized movement. From here west it was a real organization which was strictly observed and which led to order in the camps."
- And this shall be our covenant - that we will walk in all the ordinances of the Lord. . . .
Let each company bear an equal proportion, according to the dividend of their property, in taking the poor, the widows, the fatherless, and the families of those who have gone into the army, that the cries of the widow and the fatherless come not up into the ears of the Lord against this people." (vv. 4, 8.).
"They were to take care of one another, to assist the unfortunate, to see that all moved to their Zion in the west," President Hinckley said.
- And if any man shall seek to build up himself . . . he shall have no power, and his folly shall be made manifest. (v. 19.)
"This was to be a selfless effort," President Hinckley observed.
- Seek ye; and keep all your pledges one with another; and covet not that which is thy brother's.
Keep yourselves from evil to take the name of the Lord in vain, for I am the Lord your God, even the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob. (vv. 20-21.)
"They were to conduct themselves not as ruffians on the frontier but as saints of God, observing His statues and commandments," President Hinckley said.
- Cease to contend one with another; cease to speak evil one of another. . . . Let your words tend to edifying one another. (vv. 23-24.)
"There was no time for gossip, no time for slander, no time for anything of the kind," President Hinckley said. "The risks were too great, the burdens too heavy to be caught in traps of that kind.
- If thou borrowest of thy neighbor, thou shalt restore that which thou hast borrowed; and if thou canst not repay then go straightway and tell thy neighbor, lest he condemn thee. . . .
If thou art merry, praise the Lord with singing, with music, with dancing, and with a prayer of praise and thanksgiving. (vv. 25, 28.)
"Right over there," President Hinckley said, "just beyond the freeway, when the Mormon Battalion men left, there was held a dance the night before their departure. They sang together and had a wonderful time before their sorrowful separation.
- If thou art sorrowful, call on the Lord thy God with supplication, that your souls may be joyful.
Fear not thine enemies, for they are in mine hands and I will do my pleasure with them.
My people must be tried in all things, that they may be prepared to receive the glory that I have for them, even the glory of Zion; . . .
Let him that is ignorant, learn wisdom by humbling himself and calling upon the Lord his God, that his eyes might be opened that he may see, and his ears open that he may hear. (vv. 29-32.)
"It was a remarkable thing, the movement of our people from Nauvoo and its environs to the valleys of the west," President Hinckley declared. "This was a place for rest and the fitting out for the long journey that lay ahead. How grateful we ought to be. God bless us that we should always walk with faithful hearts for those who have gone before. What a wonderful thing it is to be a member of the Church, for the great heritage, even as suffering as well as of faith. What a wonderful thing to belong to a Church that after 150 years is still reaching out in vigor and vitality to bless the lives of people across the world."
Elder Pinnock, in his talk, asked, "Is there too much self-focus instead of generosity. The pioneers learned many lessons that we can profit from today."
He went on to report, "They understood the importance of responding to their leaders. They knew the importance of following their leaders."
Elder Pinnock also addressed the importance of taking "time out in our lives because the pioneers danced, sang and played when time permitted. Let us be more civil, more kind, more dependable, and more forgiving as we travel our own path through life."