Facing the threat of mob action and opposed by local and state officials and their respective militias, early Church members living in Nauvoo agreed during general conference of October 1845 to leave the state.
They were too different, too unified and too large to stay.
In recent months, mobs had attacked those living in Nauvoo's outlying communities and threatened the main city. Then a committee in Quincy, Ill., made a formal request that the Latter-day Saints immediately leave behind their once-peaceful and prosperous city.
Sustained in a unanimous motion, Brigham Young put a plan into action. A Latter-day Saint migration would begin as "early next spring as the first appearance of thrifty vegetation," after the final dedication of the Nauvoo Temple and April general conference. (Nauvoo a place of peace, a people of promise, Glen M. Leonard, p. 562.)
During the conference, Apostle Parley P. Pratt told the saints that "the Lord designs to lead us to a wider field of action, where there will be more room for the saints to grow and increase, and where there will be no one to say we crowed them." George A. Smith made a plea that members "help take the poor and every honest industrious member who wants to go." (Nauvoo Panorama, by Janath Cannon, p. 44.)
For the next six months, the City of Joseph turned its thought West, diligently laboring to finish the temple and to build wagons. Blacksmiths, carpenters and wheelwrights worked on wagon boxes, covers, wheels, and harnesses day and night. Homes turned into shops. According to Brigham Young's history, "Shops are established at the Nauvoo House, Masonic Hall, and Arsenal; nearly every shop in town is employed in making wagons. Teams are sent to all parts of the country to purchase iron; blacksmiths are at work night and day and all hands are busily engaged getting ready for our departure westward as soon as possible." (Leonard, p. 558.)
The Nauvoo Neighbor published a Bill of Particulars, listing requirements for members to take on their journey, including "animals, tools, seeds, clothing and bedding not to exceed 500 pounds, 20 lbs. of soap, 1,000 lbs. of flour or other bread or bread stuffs in good sacks, spices, beans, dried foods, tin cups, plates, knives, forks, spoons, and pans as few as will do, a good tent and furniture to each two families and more." (Cannon, p. 45.)
On Dec. 10, 1846, the first full endowments in the Nauvoo Temple were given; a total of 5,634 endowments were given from December until Feb. 7, 1846. Then in early January, Gov. Thomas Ford sent a letter suggesting the U.S. government very likely "will interfere to prevent the Mormons from going west to the Rocky Mountains." (Leonard, p. 569.)
As a result, Brigham Young formed an advance company and organized an emergency exodus. Some 2,500 saints left Nauvoo in the bitter cold winter.
Historian William G. Hartley, a professor of history at the BYU Smith Institute, said the saints still in the Nauvoo area spent February and March finding adequate wagons and supplies, settling financial affairs, regaining health and resolving family differences. Two General Authorities stayed behind in Nauvoo: Brigham Young's brother, Joseph Young, the senior president of the Seventies; and Apostle Orson Hyde.
Brother Hartley said they bore two responsibilities: to complete and dedicate the Nauvoo Temple and to evacuate every saint from Illinois.
On March 16, Brigham Young sent word back to the saints in Nauvoo to "seek diligently to help yourselves and follow after us."
During the April general conference, held inside the Nauvoo Temple, Elder Orson Hyde again instructed the people to leave Illinois as soon as possible. Starting in April, the saints left on their own whenever they were ready, traveling in small groups of from two to 25 wagons. Brother Hartley said in mid-April, Apostle Wilford Woodruff arrived back from his European mission and "found all the saints struggling for life as it were to gather with the saints in the wilderness." Following the final dedication of the temple, wave after wave of people, totalling more than 12,000, left Nauvoo.
Deadlines for the exodus were made and passed as opponents insisted on removal of "the entire Mormon population." Mob action against the saints began in July. The presence of "a ragtag Nauvoo militia" stopped the invaders only temporarily. On Sept. 10, the Battle of Nauvoo began, leading to the third exodus of some 700, mostly poor and unable, who were forced from Nauvoo at bayonet point. Shots were fired from each side; some saints were killed. Ultimately, the Latter-day Saints in Nauvoo surrendered the city leaving "as soon as they [could] cross the river" and set up "poor camps" at Montrose.
When the saints left, they looked back from the bluffs northwest of Montrose for a last look at Nauvoo. "They plainly saw the temple, and many felt heart tugs and disappointment as they said their farewells to the temple and the City of Joseph," said Brother Hartley.
Newel Knight, said Brother Hartley, wrote the following diary entry of the experience:
"April 24th We left Mississippi a bout noon we ascended the bluff here we all halted & took a farewell view of our delightful City that we had seen & helped to rear even from its infancy We also beheld the magnificent Temple rearing its lofty tower towards the heavens which speaks volumes in honor of the wisdom & greatness of our Martyred Prophet who was the founder of this magnificent temple as well as the perseverance economy & industry of the Saints who have had to labor with the sword in one hand & their tolls in the other ever since the Commencement of this noble house."
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