Though people stem through different pioneer lines, each is “ultimately from the same great family — even the great family of God, our Father,” Elder Kevin R. Duncan, General Authority Seventy, said July 24 at the Days of ’47 Sunrise Service in Salt Lake City.
The event, sponsored by the Sons of Utah Pioneers, traditionally begins the annual day of celebration in the Utah capital, marking the coming of President Brigham Young and the first company of Mormon Pioneers to the Salt Lake Valley in 1847.
“As His children, how blessed we are to know that we are precious in His sight and that He longs for us to return home,” Elder Duncan remarked in his address at the 7 a.m. event held in the Assembly Hall on Temple Square. “With the gift of our beloved elder brother Jesus Christ, we can qualify to make the ultimate pioneer journey back home to the presence of our Father, to become like Him and live with Him forever.”
Elder Duncan shared four stories from the pioneer heritage of himself and his wife, Sister Nancy Elizabeth Smart Duncan.
The first was the story of Sister Duncan’s great grandfather, Abel Smart, who, as an adventurous 19-year-old, left his home in England to see the world.
Once in the United States, he found work in Wyoming, where he began to hear strange stories and rumors about a religious group called Mormons. Curious, he went to Salt Lake City. He was impressed with the people there.
“I took off my pistol that first day in Salt Lake City and have had no occasion for one since, for I discovered that I was in the most peaceable country I had ever seen,” he said.
He joined the Church and soon married. Later, like other Church members in early Utah, he entered into plural marriage.
“Abel believed in family — especially eternal families,” Elder Duncan said. “This was perhaps why he served as a temple worker. He served in the Logan Temple, even being privileged to attend the dedication and stand in the first prayer circle.”
Elder Duncan then turned to one of his own ancestors, Robert Lock Read, who joined the Church as a young man in England. Later, he migrated to Zion in Utah and, at his mother’s behest, took his younger brother George with him.
In Utah, he married a young convert from England, Ann Jane McCowan, who was divorced by her first husband after she would not go to California with him to hunt for gold. Together, Robert and Ann had 16 children, including two sets of twins and one set of triplets.
“Ann and Robert became my great-grandparents,” Elder Duncan said.
He told of his wife’s great-grandfather, William Hulme, who arrived in Nauvoo, Illinois, at age 5 with his father and younger sister. Not long thereafter, the father died.
“One day, as little William was wandering around Nauvoo, he encountered a man out plowing in a field,” Elder Duncan recounted. “The friendly man asked William, ‘Whose little boy are you?’
“William replied, ‘I’m nobody’s little boy. I’ll be your little boy if you want me to be.’ ”
William remained in the care of the man for many years, going with him at the age of 14 to California during the Gold Rush. Later, William obeyed President Brigham Young’s request for the Saints to return to Utah.
“His life was one of obedience to the leaders of the Church,” Elder Duncan said.
Lastly, he shared the story of one of his great-great-grandfathers, Mark Cook, an Englishman who accepted the gospel after moving to Wales to work in the coal mines.
He then baptized others, but his parents were not pleased with his decision to convert to the Church. Before emigrating with his wife and children to go to Zion in America, he went to see his parents, but they refused him entrance. Even so, later in life he sent them money to assist them in their aging years.
Cook eventually moved his family to what became Bountiful, Utah.
“One summer,” Elder Duncan said, “Bountiful experienced an event much like the cricket invasion, only this time it was grasshoppers. Knowing of the miracle that had saved the crops from the crickets, the people prayed for deliverance. The next morning the grasshoppers flew into the air after spending the night in the crops, when suddenly an east wind arose and carried the grasshoppers out to the Great Salt Lake, where thy fell into the water and were drowned. The dead grasshoppers were washed ashore and decayed. The stench was terrible, but the crops had been saved and starvation avoided.”
Elder Duncan concluded, “I pray that you will feel a special connection with your great pioneer forefathers this day and every day, and may we all anticipate a wonderful reunion with them someday.”
Music for the service was provided by the Salt Lake Valley Combined Institute Choir, which was directed by Richard T. Decker, William D. Hatch, Robert B. Hoch and Marshall S. McDonald.
In addition, the Days of ’47 Royalty sang their own arrangement of “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” The Royalty, selected in a pageant last spring, are Maren Cline of North Salt Lake, queen; Tess Hanson of South Jordan, first attendant; and Brittny Millington of South Jordan, second attendant. All three are returned missionaries.
In keeping with tradition, members of the Mormon Battalion Association posted the colors and led the Pledge of Allegiance.
The Sunrise Service was sponsored by the Salt Lake Pioneer Chapter of the Sons of Utah Pioneers in partnership with its National Society and with the Days of ’47 Committee.