Representing "legions of noble women who crossed the plains giving succor to their own families and others along the trail," a monument commissioned by the Daughters of Utah Pioneers was dedicated Nov. 21 by President James E. Faust.
Created by noted LDS sculptor Karl Quilter, the monument a statue of a pioneer mother and young son turning their backs on the grave of a little daughter and sister stands on the grounds of the Pioneer Museum near the State Capitol in Salt Lake City.
The bronze statue stands more than 6 feet tall. The mother clutches the hand of her little boy, who holds an over-sized hat. The small rock-covered grave behind them has a little bonnet on it and wild flowers. The mother holds to her breast a doll and behind the doll, the scriptures, with only the word "THE" showing, allowing a visitor to think of either the Bible or the Book of Mormon.
Grief shows on the mother's face, as she has not only buried her daughter, but also her husband, as judged by the hat the boy holds. The boy looks up at his mother with a questioning look.
The monument, called "Ever Pressing Forward, Lest We Forget," was the climax to the yearlong Centennial Birthday Celebration for the International Daughters of Utah Pioneers.
Speaking to a gathering inside the museum just before dedicating the statue, President Faust, second counselor in the First Presidency, congratulated "all who have contributed in any way to this special monument."
"It could represent my great-grandmother, Jane Akerley. She and her husband, John Akerley, took out their endowment in February 1846, the last day the temple was open in Nauvoo. Both Jane's father and husband died at Winter Quarters and she came into this valley as a young widow."
Continuing, President Faust quoted from "They of the Last Wagon," an address delivered at the October 1947 general conference by President J. Reuben Clark Jr. of the First Presidency:
"Back in the last wagon, not always could they see the Brethren way out in front, and the blue heaven was often shut out from their sight by heavy, dense clouds of the dust of the earth. Yet day after day, they of the last wagon pressed forward, worn and tired, footsore, sometimes almost disheartened, borne up by their faith that God loved them, that the restored gospel was true and that the Lord led and directed the Brethren out in front . . . .
"But yet in the last wagon there was devotion and loyalty and integrity, and above and beyond everything else, faith in the Brethren and in God's power and goodness . . . . And then they had their testimony burning always like an eternal fire on a holy altar, that the restored gospel was true, and that Joseph was a prophet of God, and that Brigham was Joseph's chosen successor . . . .
"That evening was the last of the great trek, the mightiest trek that history records since Israel's flight from Egypt, and as the sun sank below the mountain peaks of the west and the eastern crags were bathed in an amethyst glow that was a living light, while the western mountainsides were clothed in shadows of the rich blue of the deep sea, they of the last wagon, and of the wagon before them, and of the one before that, and so to the very front wagon of the train, these all sank to their knees in the joy of their souls, thanking God that at last they were in Zion."
Also offering a few remarks before President Faust dedicated the statue was Brother Quilter, who is known for designing the statues of the Angel Moroni for all but eight temples throughout the world. He told the gathering that his mother, a long-time member of Daughters of Utah Pioneers, once told him, "If you ever do something for the DUP, you do it right."
While researching for this project, he said he read and reread President Clark's conference address. "What made the last wagon?" he said he asked himself. He said he realized the last wagon would have also held the sick, the afflicted and the widow.
"They made it here. I thought how they [persevered] through their trials and tribulations and made it to the valley but not without sacrifice."
Brother Quilter explained that the monument "represents all of our relatives who were in that last wagon."
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