The Mormon Pioneer legacy is composed of remarkable youth who helped their fellow saints across the plains, witnesses to miracles along the trail and converts of tremendous faith.
A demographic analysis of the Church History Department dwebsite’s Mormon Pioneer Overland Travel database reveals 51 percent of the 57,000 pioneers currently documented were younger than 21 at the time they crossed the plains, according to Church History Library Director Keith Erekson.
Among this group were 61 young men who braved the cold winter of 1856 alongside 304 other men in the rescue companies Brigham Young sent out in October to rescue the thousands of pioneers still traveling to the Salt Lake Valley late in the season.
As a result of the efforts of these rescuers and others, approximately 1,250 pioneers were saved, according to the Church History website.
Mons and Elna Larson, a convert couple from Sweden that were 1859 pioneers, were also saved by a miracle they saw on their journey west at a time when their company’s provisions began to run out. Company members were rationed to one pint of flour per person per day at the time, according to a life sketch of Mons Larson written by his grandson Elliot.
One evening, the Larsons camped near a river. While Mons was out fishing that night, Elna saw a tree about a mile away from their campsite and felt inspired to go to it.
“To her great surprise, there she found a pile of dry bread,” Elliott wrote. “She gathered it all in her apron and was so overjoyed that she sat down and wept.”
Mons also caught several fish that evening, and the Larsons brought these extra provisions back to their campsite.
“So that night they had a full meal, the first for many days, thus preserving their lives until help reached them,” Elliott recorded.
Another miracle occured at the baptism of 1849 pioneer Ann Elizabeth Hodgkinson Wamsley Palmer (“Wamsley” spelling varies in different accounts) — the first female convert to the Church in England.
In 1837, the Prophet Joseph Smith assigned Heber C. Kimball — a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles later called as first counselor in the First Presidency — to serve with the first LDS missionaries in England.
Soon after their arrival, the group traveled to Preston, where then-Elder Kimball visited the Wamsleys in their home. As recorded in Orson F. Whitney’s Life of Heber C. Kimball, Ann Elizabeth had been ill for several years when they met.
“She was reduced to skin and bones, a mere skeleton; and was given up to die by the doctors,” President Kimball wrote.
He promised her that she would be healed if she would believe, repent and be baptized. Ann Elizabeth was baptized with the first group of converts in England on July 30, 1837, in the River Ribble near Preston.
“She was carried to the water, and after her baptism began to amend, and at her confirmation she was blest, and her disease rebuked, when she immediately recovered, and in less than one week after she was attending to her household duties,” President Kimball recalled. “Thus was a miracle wrought that day.”
• These pioneer stories come from a Church News series observing 170 years since the arrival of the first company of Mormon Pioneers in the Salt Lake Valley in 1847. The following are links to the stories currently published in the series:
- ‘Humor on the Plains’
- Pioneer histories highlight extraordinary youth
- Pioneer conversion stories exhibit healing, faith, integrity
- Miracles help pioneers overcome obstacles, move forward with faith