Vanguard company inspired by prospect of building Zion in tops of mountains

Brigham Young was anxious for the Saints traveling from Winter Quarters to know of his conviction in having found the right place. Therefore, on Aug. 2, 1847, Ezra T. Benson and a company of horsemen carried a letter from President Young to be read to those along the trail who were seeking to reach the new Zion.

In his letter President Young wrote: "Let all the brethren and sisters cheer up their hearts and know assuredly that God has heard and answered their prayers and ours, and led us to a goodly land." (Journal History, Aug. 2, 1847.)There was great optimism expressed by the vanguard company in the Salt Lake Valley. In a Sunday meeting held in the valley on Aug. 1, Orson Pratt said, "I feel thankful as one of the Twelve for the privilege of coming as one the Pioneers to this glorious valley, where we can build up a city to the Lord . . . Isaiah says, `in speaking of Zion, that it shall be called, sought out.' (Isaiah 62:12). If ever there was a place sought out it was this. We have inquired diligently and have found it. . . . Isaiah and Joel both spoke of the Lord's house being established in the tops of the mountains. You may travel through Europe, Asia, Africa and America, but you cannot find a place higher in altitude than this, where any people can raise crops and sustain themselves. The house of the Lord will indeed be established in the tops of the mountains." (Journal History, Aug 1, 1847.)

Likely there were several hundred in attendance at that first Sunday meeting. There were about 450 people in the valley, including the vanguard pioneer company (147), the sick detachment of the Mormon Battalion (240), and the Mississippi Company (60), who had wintered with the battalion in Pueblo, now Colorado.There were 327 men, 57 women and 76 children.

The relief, humility and excitement of finding the new Zion prompted the Twelve on Friday evening, Aug. 6, to go to the City Creek dam to be rebaptized and confirmed. Others were encouraged to do the same. It is recorded that a total of 288 men and women responded.

"We considered this A duty & privilege as we come into a glorious valley to locate & build a temple & build up Zion we felt like renewing our covenants before the Lord and each other," Wilford Woodruff wrote. (Wilford Woodruff Journal, 3:249.)

Although most were inspired by the prospect of building Zion in the tops of the mountains, some were disheartened by the desolation of the Salt Lake Valley.

Brigham Young's wife, Clarissa Decker Young, one of only three women in the vanguard company, was heartbroken by the sight. She said, "I do not remember a tree that could be called a tree." (Bancroft's History of Utah, p. 261.)

Orson F. Whitney later described the valley as "a broad and barren plain, hemmed in by mountains, blistering in the rays of the midsummer sun. No waving fields, no swaying forests, no verdant meadows to rest and refresh the weary eye, but on all sides a seemingly interminable waste of sagebrush, be-spangled with sunflowers . . . the paradise of the lizard, the cricket and the rattlesnake." (History of Utah 1:325.)

Samuel Brannan, the leader of those who had sailed from New York to San Francisco in 1846 on the ship Brooklyn, wanted the Saints to go on to California. He came from California to persuade the brethren to move on to the lush prosperity of California, but in early August he left Salt Lake for San Francisco with a letter from Brigham Young.

In this letter, President Young encouraged the Saints to come to the Salt Lake Valley if they wished, but if they wanted to stay, he thought it would be good to have a stronghold there to help Saints immigrating in that direction. President Young included the following which well describes the philosophy under which Zion had its beginnings.

"We do not believe in having all things in common . . . but we believe that it is right for every man to have his stewardship according to the ability that God hath given him; yet, there are . . . circumstances where it is quite right for the brethren to unite all their energies and labors in one common cause for a season, as, for illustration, we are now doing. Most of us pioneers are expecting to return immediately to Winter Quarters; yet, since we have been in this valley we have united all our strength in plowing, planting, sewing, etc., and thereby, have accomplished much. We shall leave it and others will enjoy the benefits of our labor. . . .

"When . . . the inhabitants begin to spread abroad in the city, we expect every family will have a lot on which they may build, plant, etc, . . . and every man may be steward over his own." (Journal History, Aug. 7, 1847, original /letter on file, Brigham Young President, in behalf of the Council. Willard Richards, clerk.)

In early August it was decided to build both log and adobe homes and the various tasks of building, surveying, repairing wagons and exploring were assigned. Wilford Woodruff and George A. Smith of the Quorum of the Twelve became part of the log-gathering process.

Elder Woodruff recorded, "So I took my ax this morning and in company with G. A. Smith went to the mountain about 6 miles. We had several men with us to assist in Chopping. We found a grove of fir trees that we thought would answer well. We had to make a road to it and bridges across the creek. I some dreaded the job, for it was a [hard] one. . . . I blistered up my hands & was vary weary at night. . . . In two days we got timber sufficient for two buildings. . . . But I had laboured so hard during the two days I could hardly stand upon my feet. I went to my waggon & flung myself upon my bed to rest." (Wilford Woodruff Journal, pp. 248-249.)

The task of surveying the city was assigned to Orson Pratt and Henry G. Sherwood. They laid out 135 blocks of 10 acres each. The blocks were subdivided into eight lots of 11/4 acres each and the streets were eight rods wide. There were four public squares, including the adobe yard, or fort, and the temple block. (Howard Egan Journal, August 20.)

It was voted to name the city Great Salt Lake City, Great Basin, North America. The streets around the temple were named East Temple Street, West Temple Street, North Temple Street and South Temple Street, and the remainder of the streets were numbered First South Street, Second South Street, etc. (Diary of Thomas Bullock, Aug 16, 1847.)

Originally the Saints built adobe and log houses, which covered about one square block located on the current Pioneer Park. The houses were 17 by 14 feet and 8 to 9 feet high. Roofs were made of limbs and dirt. A wall surrounded the compound forming a fort.

Explorations during August 1847 included the area north into what is now Ogden, Cache Valley, and all the way 216 miles to Fort Hall in southern Idaho.

The Cache Valley explorers, including Jesse C. Little, Joseph Matthews, John Brown, John Buchanan and Lt. Willis, reported the area was favorable, except "there was no more timber there than in Salt Lake." (John Brown Journal.)

The same group visited Miles Goodyear at the mouth of the Weber canyon in the Ogden area and reported of this trapper who lived in the area before the Mormons arrived:

"Mr. Goodyear's fort consisted of some log buildings and corrals stockaded with pickets. He had a herd of cattle, horses, and goats. There was a small vegetable garden, and, although it had been neglected, it looked well, which proved to us that with proper cultivation it would do well. His corn was shoulder high." (John Brown's Pioneer Journal.)

Several apostles and other men were assigned to visit the Great Salt Lake and the mountains west of the valley. When they found they could float on the surface of the lake, they concluded it was one of the wonders of the world. The following day they explored Tooele Valley.

Others went to Utah Valley. They reported Utah Lake was clear and the land east of the lake was rich and good for cultivation with several streams flowing from the mountains.

On Saturday, Aug. 21, John Brown and a few battalion members set out at 8 a.m. to climb Twin Peaks, the highest peak visible from the pioneer camp.

Naively, they expected to finish the round trip by mid-afternoon and hence took little food, water, and no coats or bedding. When they reached the summit toward evening, they measured the elevation at 11,219 feet and the temperature at 55 degrees.

It was 101 degrees the same day in the valley. Their descent was interrupted by darkness and needless to say the novice climbers spent a very uncomfortable night trying to stay warm. The next morning they reached their horses totally exhausted and famished as they had gone without lunch, dinner and breakfast. (John Brown Journal.)

On Aug. 9, the first non-Indian child was born in the valley. A daughter was born in a tent on the temple block to Catharine C. Steele, wife of John Steele of the Mormon Battalion. She was named Young Elizabeth Steele in honor of Brigham Young and Queen Elizabeth.

Just two days later, three-year-old Milton H. Therlkill was found drowned behind the newly constructed City Creek dam. Howard Egan wrote regarding the drowning: "The grief of both of the parents was great, but that of the agonized mother baffles all description. She laughed, wept, walked to and fro, alternately, refusing all attempts at consolation from her friends, being apparently unable to become resigned to her domestic and melancholy bereavement."

Sister Therlkill was pregnant at the time and gave birth four days after the tragic drowning of her young son.

One of the challenges for the Saints was learning to live with the Indians and the wild animals. On the morning of Aug. 1, a large group of Indians had come to visit the camp and it was difficult to keep them outside the wagons. Nearly all were small of stature and some wore no clothing except a breech cloth. One Indian was seen stealing clothes laid out on bushes to dry.

When they found they were not permitted inside the circle, they moved to their own camp about three miles northwest of the pioneer camp. (Journal History, Wednesday, Aug. 11, 1847.)

Heber C. Kimball advised the brethren not to sell or trade their guns and ammunition to Indians. He discouraged the idea of paying Indians for the land. He said if the Shoshones were paid, Utes and other tribes would claim pay also. Thomas Bullock recorded in his journal, "In the night the wolves were very annoying keeping up a continuous howling." (Thomas Bullock Journal, Aug. 26, 1847.)

When some of the pioneers and battalion members left Salt Lake for Winter Quarters, truly much had been accomplished. The returning parties included a small company of 11 of the battalion on horseback led by Norton Jacobs on Aug. 11; the Oxen Company of 71 men, under the direction of Shadrach Roundy and Tunis Rappleye on Aug. 16; and the largest group headed by Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball on Aug. 26.

Lorenzo D. Young, who remained in the valley because his wife was sick, wrote on Aug. 26: "This day has been a lonesome one. Bros. Brigham and Heber, with a number of other Brethren, started for Winter Quarters, and we feel as if we were left alone." (Lorenzo D. Young Journal).

But they would not be alone for long. More than 1,500 Saints would arrive in late September and early October. All would be able to survive the winter because of the incredible work performed by these pioneers in the busy month of August 1847.

On Aug. 18, John Taylor, in one of the westbound companies camping in central Wyoming, wrote the following to Brigham Young: "We thank God, our Heavenly Father, that you have been so successful in your undertaking and that after the many wanderings, trials, persecutions, and afflictions of the saints, that you have at last found a home." (Journal History, Aug. 18, 1847.)