On Feb. 8, nearly 330 participants faced freezing temperatures and drifted snow as they walked down Parley Street to the icy Mississippi, commemorating the departure of the Latter-day Saints from Nauvoo 168 years ago, in February 1846. Through the spring and summer of that year thousands of Saints left their homes, farms and businesses to escape persecution and find a place of refuge in what President Gordon B. Hinckley termed “the exodus to greatness.”
The Saturday procession this year included senior missionaries serving in Nauvoo, local Church members and friends from surrounding communities and visitors from across the United States. They wore tags with the names of ancestors and former residents of Nauvoo.
“It doesn’t matter whether you are a direct descendent or not, these people are a part of our Church heritage,” one participant noted.
The march was led by 33 missionaries representing the Nauvoo Legion as color guard, foot soldiers and escorts for the horse drawn wagons. A senior missionary, portraying Brigham Young, and his wife rode in the lead horse-drawn surrey, followed by Acting President Jack Evan Chynoweth of the Illinois Nauvoo Mission, who drove the team pulling a second surrey. The procession included two covered wagons, two freight wagons and one large carriage.
When the group reached the Mississippi River the Nauvoo Legion re-enactors formed near the statue of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young and held a flag ceremony, which was followed by all the participants singing “Come, Come Ye Saints” accompanied by harmonica and guitar. Following the ceremony most of the people walked back to the Family Living Center on White Street, while others rode in the horse-drawn carriage.
President Chynoweth noted that the exodus commemoration has been an annual event since 1996, the sesquicentennial of the beginning of evacuation of Nauvoo in February of 1846.
“On February 4, 1846 Charles Shumway ferried his team and wagon over the river on a barge,“ he said. ”He was the first of the Saints to leave Nauvoo. We walk down Parley Street early in February to honor those who had the faith to follow a prophet to the Rocky Mountains.”
Events ended on Sunday evening, Feb. 9, following a special meeting at the Historic Nauvoo Visitors’ Center. At the meeting eight senior missionaries gave brief histories of ancestors who lived in Nauvoo and participated in the journey west. Musical renditions of favorite pioneer hymns completed the commemoration.