Before mounting a horse to travel to Carthage, Illinois, in June 1844, Hyrum Smith picked up his 5-year-old son, Joseph F. Smith, and hugged him. Young Joseph F. then watched his father and his beloved uncle, the Prophet Joseph, ride off on their horses.
The next time Joseph F. saw his father and Uncle Joseph, their bodies lay in state in the Mansion House in Nauvoo after they were murdered in Carthage Jail. He was now 5 years old and fatherless.
“He had to become a strong young man at age 7 to help his mother, Mary Fielding. He led an ox team from Nauvoo to Winter Quarters. After two years there and at age 9, he led Old Tom, his ox and best friend on the long trail, to the Salt Lake Valley,” said President M. Russell Ballard, a great-grandson of Joseph F. Smith.
Sitting in front of the Mary Fielding Smith home at This Is the Place Heritage Park in Salt Lake City on a bright June morning weeks before Pioneer Day, the acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles reflected on his pioneer heritage and what it means to be a pioneer to the Latter-day Saints today.
“I see Mary’s home here at This Is the Place Heritage Park and realize that Mary Fielding built it for her six children. Often, anyone else who did not have a place to stay, she would take them in. Her legacy as a pioneer who helped settle the Salt Lake Valley should never be forgotten. I’d like to be half as good as she was,” President Ballard said.
“The more you learn about those who led the way here and made the 24th of July possible for all of us, the more you realize that the hand of the Lord directed our pioneer fathers and mothers to this beautiful valley.
“And the faith-filled stories of the pioneers’ journey from Nauvoo to the Salt Lake Valley are endless.”
The Prophet Joseph Smith
During a visit to the Joseph Smith Birthplace in Sharon, Vermont, in October 2019, President Ballard declared his witness that “the Prophet Joseph Smith is everything we know and say that he is, the prophet of God who restored the gospel of Jesus Christ in this final dispensation of time.”
Looking back at the nine months since his visit to the birthplace, President Ballard said he continues to take every opportunity to learn more about the Smith family and their unwavering faith and their pioneer legacy.
“The more you study the lives of Joseph Smith Sr. and Lucy Mack Smith, you understand what true disciples of Christ they were. Their faith and trust in God and the Lord Jesus Christ was foremost in guiding their lives. Without such faith, I do not believe they would have been able to accomplish all they did,” he said.
For example, when 14-year-old Joseph Smith returned from the grove of trees near their home in Spring 1820, Lucy asked, “Joseph, what is the matter?” He answered, “Never mind, all is well — I am well enough off.”
“Then she learned that he had knelt in prayer and the Father and the Son appeared to him,” President Ballard said. “Just think how wonderful it is that his mother believed him.”
When Joseph told his father about the visits from Moroni, his father believed him, President Ballard said.
“A lot of parents might have said, ‘Oh Joseph, you’ve been out in the sun for too long.’ Not Father and Mother Smith. They knew they had a very special son in Joseph, and they believed him. And the whole family believed him. And millions have believed him today.”
“It is my belief that Lucy Mack Smith and Mary Fielding Smith will be numbered among the truly great women in the history of the world,” President Ballard said.
“The pioneer women of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were remarkable. The stories of these dear sisters, some who were more faithful and stronger in their perseverance than some of the men, must never be forgotten,” he said.
When studying these sisters’ lives, “you study greatness. You study faith, trust, love for and dedicated service to the Lord Jesus Christ.
“We should always remember and thank the Lord for the faithful women of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”
‘Crossroads of the world’
As part of the July 1997 sesquicentennial celebration of pioneers arriving in the Salt Lake Valley, President Ballard remembers sitting next to President Gordon B. Hinckley at the monument at This Is the Place Heritage Park. Watching the handcarts and wagons enter the valley through Emigration Canyon after retracing the trail from Nauvoo to the Salt Lake Valley was a spiritual moment for more than 50,000 people in attendance.
“The First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve were there with tears in our eyes, realizing that we were watching the reenactment of 150 years earlier under the direction of Brigham Young,” President Ballard said.
It was a Pioneer Day moment President Ballard will never forget.
When the pioneers arrived in 1847 the Salt Lake Valley was barren, with hardly any trees in sight. President Ballard said he pictures those early pioneers seeing such a scene after leaving the trees and lush greenery and beauty of the East, “and learning that Brigham Young said, ‘This is the right place — drive on’ must have been a shock for some of them.”
But Brigham Young saw what the valley would become. “And here it is, a beautiful city and the Crossroads of the West. We now are saying it’s the crossroads of the world because of our missionary effort to the whole world.”
“The gospel of Jesus Christ is for everybody. One of the wonderful things that we understand and celebrate in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is that everyone is a son or daughter of God, our Eternal Father, and that He loves us. The Lord Jesus Christ is the Savior for all men and all women and all boys, all girls, all young adults who have ever lived or will ever live on this earth.
“What we celebrate on July 24th is mainly the life and ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ and His inspired direction for our early leaders and faithful pioneers.”
President Ballard continued, “Let us remember the pioneer stories and share them with our families and the whole world. We have great pioneer stories to tell.”