When the Church's 119th temple, the New York Manhattan Temple, was dedicated, it included as did its predecessors a baptismal font resting on the backs of 12 oxen statues. While the choice of oxen as a symbol representing the Twelve Tribes of Israel is an ancient one, the choice of the faithful, steady oxen also has a more recent application, especially in the construction of the pioneer temples.
When the Salt Lake Temple was started, for example, the massive amount of stone needed for the structure was 20 miles away, over hills, down ravines and across streams and sand pits. Complicating matters, the base stones weighed from one to three tons each. (See Everlasting Spires, by W.A. Raynor, pp. 71-100.)
The daunting task required the creative use of the best resources in the valley. In developing these resources, oxen were used, first to attempt a wooden rail line, and then to excavate a canal that was to provide a means to float stones from the quarry to the temple site. Both plans were abandoned, but the use of oxen only increased as hundreds of yokes of them were soon put to use hauling stone.
Three teams of oxen were needed to pull each extra large wagon. At the quarry, heavy granite stones were rolled on small poles to a wagon site. Here, a wagon would be driven over the stone, and holes dug beneath its wheels to lower it till it touched the stone. After the stone was chained to the bottom of the wagon, the oxen pulled the wagon forward. Poles rolled beneath the stone until the wagon came up from the holes and suspended the stone beneath it. A typical trip took four days. And typically, teams could be seen carrying stones or returning to the quarry on and off for about two decades.
A rail line in 1873 replaced the oxen and wagon, and moved the work along in a manner more likely to complete the project, taking another 19 years. Still, it was the oft-ridiculed, plodding oxen that hauled the heaviest of the stones for the "Great Temple." The ancient symbol of the oxen continues to have application.
John L. Hart