Though it was Brigham Young who led the Latter-day Saints in their westward flight to safety from mob persecution in Illinois, he was carrying out the vision of the Prophet Joseph Smith, who declared, "My people shall become a mighty host in the vastness of the Rocky Mountains."
That prophecy is emblazoned upon the base of a new statue unveiled July 19 at This Is The Place Heritage Park in Salt Lake City. The bronze sculpture, "Eyes Westward," replicates an identical work erected in 2005 on the banks of the Mississippi River in Nauvoo, Ill. It depicts Joseph and Brigham standing on the riverbank with a map of the westward trek that Joseph had seen in vision before his martyrdom in 1844. Both statues were created by prominent LDS sculptor Dee Jay Bawden.
Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve dedicated the sculpture in Salt Lake City, which was commissioned by the Sons of Utah Pioneers.
The Prophet's vision of the Latter-day Saints becoming a mighty people in the West is well-documented, as established by other quotations on the statue's base.
For example, President Young is quoted as saying four days after the saints' arrival in the Salt Lake Valley on July 24, 1847, "We have come here according to the direction and counsel of Brother Joseph before his death."
Mosiah Hancock recorded: "The Prophet came to our home and stopped in our carpenter's shop. When I got my map for him, he said, 'Now I will show you the travels of this people.' He then showed our travels through Iowa and said, 'Here you will make a place for the winter. And here you will travel west until you come to the valley of the Great Salt Lake. You will build cities to the north and to the south and to the east and to the west, and you will become a great and wealthy people in that land.'"
Oliver Huntington reported that Joseph sketched a future home of the saints in the Rocky Mountains and their route to that country that he had seen in vision. Four copies of the map were made, one of which was carried by the Mormon Battalion to help them find the Church in the Salt Lake Valley when their enlistment was up.
Anson Call recounted an occasion when he heard the Prophet speak of the future settlement in the West: "While he was talking, his countenance changed white — a living brilliant white. He seemed absorbed and gazing at something at a great distance and said, 'I am gazing upon the valleys of those mountains. Oh, the beauty of those snow-capped mountains! The cool, refreshing streams that are running through those mountain gorges.' Then, gazing at another direction, as if there was a change in locality, (Joseph said), 'Oh the scenes that this people will pass through'."
During a program inside the park visitors center prior to giving the dedicatory prayer at the statue's location near the park entrance, Elder Ballard voiced his belief that when President Young, riding in Wilford Woodruff's carriage, first gazed upon the Salt Lake Valley and uttered the now-famous words "This is the right place; drive on," he was looking for what is now called Ensign Peak.
The peak is a mound-shaped prominence just north of downtown Salt Lake City.
"In his vision, that's what he saw, the Prophet Joseph Smith pointing down to the valley, telling him the saints would enter this valley" and spread out from there, forming other settlements, Elder Ballard said. In that vision, the Prophet pointed out the peak as the location to raise an "ensign to the nations" in accordance with the prophecy of Isaiah 5:26.
Speaking of the park, which memorializes the pioneers' entry into the valley, Elder Ballard said, "The Lord's hand has been in a lot of what has gone on here, and it has to continue. We have a responsibility as leaders to see that it continues to be a wonderful place for youth, particularly, to come and have instilled in their hearts and their minds the marvelous reality of pioneering."
In many ways, he said, Church members are still pioneering, particularly in reaching out to others in a time of declining standards of morality and decency, "trying to draw people in a direction where they will find peace, joy and happiness."
In remarks earlier in the program, Grant E. Barton, public relations director for and past president of the Sons of Utah Pioneers, quoted prophecies in Isaiah and Micah about the gathering of Israel and the establishment of the Lord's people "in the tops of the Mountains."
He exclaimed that Joseph Smith actually drew the map carried by Brigham Young in finding the Salt Lake Valley.
Most of Church history preceding the trek "was, in a sense, preparation for the great gathering of Israel in the tops of the mountains," he said, "such as temporary preparatory gatherings in Ohio, Missouri and Illinois, and the urgency to build temples, that endowed the saints with eternal purpose and unyielding commitment."
Sculptor Bawden told the Church News that he developed the idea for the sculpture in the 1990s, when he was reading a book by his friend, Paul Smith, called Prophetic Destiny. After prayer, he had an image come to mind of which he made a model. The model was shown to the First Presidency. Some 11 years later, President Gordon B. Hinckley asked Brother Bawden to sculpt the statue to be erected in Nauvoo in connection with the bicentennial year of the Prophet Joseph's birth.
While he was working on it, he happened to run into Brother Barton at a restaurant in Provo, Utah. Learning of the statue, Brother Barton told the sculptor the Sons of Utah Pioneers would be interested in commissioning a copy of the sculpture for placement in Salt Lake City. Brother Bawden agreed to do it for the cost of the material and casting, so long as the organization obtained approval from the Church leadership.
The statues "are kind of like bookends," he said, "one here and one there to commemorate the vision and the destiny of the saints."
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