Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Doctrine and Covenants 136, part 2: Rescuing the Saints

Rescuing the Nauvoo Saints

We often hear of the rescue of the Martin and Willie Handcart Companies (in fact, that is the topic of next week's lesson) but seldom do we hear about the many other rescues among the pioneer companies both before and after that.

Long before the Saints left for the Great Basin, in the October 1839 conference, Brigham Young proposed to the saints that they promise to “stand by and assist each other to the utmost of our abilities in removing from [the state of Missouri], and that we will never desert the poor who are worthy…”  

This “Missouri Covenant” had been signed by 214 saints.  Now they made a similar covenant to help the Saints out of Jackson County, Missouri, which they kept.

In 1845, persecutions in Illinois became so great that President Young (president of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles) proposed a similar covenant, this one called "The Nauvoo Covenant," and it passed unanimously.  Their promise was to remove each other and all their brothers and sisters out of the reach of the exterminating order issued by Governor Boggs.  He then promised, “If you will be faithful to your covenant, I will now prophesy that the great God will shower down means upon this people, to accomplish it to the very letter.” 

Photo from Family Search

More than 11,000 members departed Nauvoo in small groups.  They crossed Iowa and camped along the Missouri River, over 300 miles from their former home.  Remaining in Nauvoo were hundreds who lacked the means to leave, either financially or physically.  Many were new arrivals who had expected Nauvoo to be the end of their journey.  Orville M. Allen was charged with heading up a rescue company to return to Nauvoo.   He took 20 wagons and a few men, collecting more provisions along the way as they could.

While Brother Allen was on his trek across Iowa, armed men entered Nauvoo and forced the remaining poor and sick men, women and children across the Mississippi River into the wilderness of Iowa.  Therefore when the rescue team arrived at these so-called “Poor Camps” (present-day Montrose) that October, they were astonished and overwhelmed by the need.  Poverty-stricken themselves, they found their brothers and sisters in dire circumstances.  How could they follow their commitment and rescue the 300 or more people they found, when they had used all they had to rescue so many others so recently?  They had done their best, and it was not nearly enough.  But the Lord honored these covenant-keeping men and, as Brigham Young had promised, He literally “showered down means to accomplish” the task.  Three days after the arrival of the rescue (the word after is key here—it was after they had kept their covenant, after they had done all they could) a miracle occurred.  All morning and into the afternoon, flocks of quail flew near the camps and simply flopped around on the ground.  They did not run or fly away, but just waited for the starving saints to pick them up in their hands.  Soon they had all the meat they could desire to eat. 

About 3:00 in the afternoon, the quail stopped coming.  Right then, Church trustees who had been working in Nauvoo to sell property arrived with shoes, clothing, molasses, salt pork, and salt as well as $100 they had received from non-Mormon citizens they had solicited up and down the Mississippi River. 

About 4:30, Captain Allen started the return trip, taking 157 people and 28 wagons.  (They used the wagons that had been in the Poor Camp as well as the ones he had brought.)  A second rescue team arrived at the end of October to bring the rest.  About 300 saints from the Poor Camps were rescued by their brothers.  (William G. Hartley, “How Shall I Gather?” Ensign, October 1997, p. 5-9)

The Rescue from Iowa

All of the saints had been rescued, but to what?  To the entirely inadequate camp they called Winter Quarters in Nebraska.  D&C 136 was received in the dead of winter with instructions on how to organize the trek.  The vanguard wagon trains headed for the Great Basin the following spring, but many, many saints were left behind, wondering how they would ever make the trip to Zion.

A committee was sent to Washington to seek government employment for financing the move to the west, headed by Jesse C. Little.  President James Polk finally agreed to enlist 500 Mormon men to march west and fight in the Mexican War.  They were to blaze trails along the way.  Each recruit would receive $42 for his uniform, which each of them immediately turned over to the church and marched in his own clothing.  Altogether, the Mormon Battalion brought over $50,000 to the church for their one-year enlistment; the equivalent in today’s U.S. dollars would be around $1.5 million.  (Leonard J. Arrington, Great Basin Kingdom, p. 21)

Another miracle occurred.  Mormon Battalion members, having completed their enlistment, traveled north from San Diego to northern California where a group of L.D.S. members were now living and prospering. In fact, at the end of 1846, most of the white settlers in California were Mormon. How did they get west ahead of the rest of the saints?  Coincidentally on the very same day the Nauvoo saints had crossed the Missouri River, these impoverished saints had set sail from New York Harbor on the chartered Ship Brooklyn, sailed nearly to Africa before they found winds to carry them around Cape Horn, back up to Chile and nearly out to Hawaii, before finally blowing back to a northern California settlement.  It was an experiment in a cheaper way to get west than overland travel, but the trip was fearsome and treacherous and was not attempted again.  The town of Yerba Buena swelled to a small city with their arrival.  Today it is called San Francisco.  (Joan S. Hamblin, "Voyage of 'The Brooklyn'," Ensign, July 1997) 

About 80 members of the Mormon Battalion found work there while waiting for Brigham Young to come west.  Some worked at Sutter’s Mill.  The rest is history:  The California Gold Rush of 1949!  In fact, it was a Mormon, Sam Brannan, who published the news of the gold discovery to the rest of the U.S. in his newspaper, The California Star, as a 2-inch filler on an inside page.  Mormon Battalion members were hired as express riders to deliver the paper to the major cities back east, hoping to promote growth.  (Church video, "A Legacy More Precious Than Gold".)  The Mormons just wanted to get back to their families and were waiting for Brigham Young’s call, but in the meantime, they discovered the fabulous “Mormon Island,” the richest find of the gold rush.  (California Pioneer) 

The Salt Lake economy swelled as prospectors passed through, and the Brooklyn saints got rich in San Francisco, both from gold and from the booming economy.  Alondus D. Buckland built a hotel called “The Buckland House” on the corner of Kearny and Pacific in San Francisco.  When President Young called the Brooklyn Saints back to Salt Lake City, a corner lot was worth $10,000.  Alondus left California with Thomas Rhoads’ company, later nicknamed “The Gold Train,” bringing altogether $30,000-40,000 in gold with them.  (Okay, have to brag:  Alondus is my ancestor and I’m proud of him.)  Over $80,000 came into the church’s accounts between 1848 and 1851 from the California Saints.  (Stewart R Wyatt, “The Life and Times of Alondus de Lafayette Buckland, p. 24-29.  His source on the dollar amount is J. Kenneth Davies, Mormon Gold: The Story of California’s Mormon Argonauts, p. xv.) 

Another great miracle occurred.  The pioneers had now been in Salt Lake City a couple of years, were running out of supplies and their tools were wearing out.  Salt Lake City Fourth Ward Bishop Benjamin Brown published the story of this miracle:

“There we were, completely shut out from the world…the first shop was a thousand miles off…

“Information of the great discovery of gold in California had reached the States, and large companies were formed for the purpose of supplying the gold diggers with food and clothing and implements of every kind for digging, etc…In fact, these persons procured just the things they would have done, had they been forming companies purposely for relieving the Saints, and had they determined to do it as handsomely as unlimited wealth would allow.

“When these companies, after crossing the plains, arrived within a short distance of Salt Lake City, news reached them that ships had been dispatched from many parts of the world, fitted out with goods for California.  This threatened to flood the market.  The companies feared that the sale of their goods would not repay the expense of conveyance.  Here was a ‘fix’—the companies were too far from the States to take their goods back, and they would not pay to carry them through, and when to this was added the fact, that the companies were half crazy to leave trading, and turn gold diggers themselves, it will easily be seen how naturally the difficulty solved itself into the decision which they actually came to—‘Oh here are these Mormons, let us sell the goods to them.’  Accordingly they brought them into the Valley, and disposed of them…at least at half the price for which the goods could have been purchased in the states.”
  (Arrington, p. 67)

In addition, the trail from Fort Laramie, Wyoming to Salt Lake City was littered with abandoned items, which Mormon teams collected for nothing.  Howard Standsbury reported collecting:
  • 11 broken wagons
  • bar-iron and steel
  • large blacksmiths’ anvils and bellows
  • crowbars
  • drills
  • augers
  • gold-washers
  • chisels
  • axes
  • lead
  • trunks
  • spades
  • ploughs
  • large grindstones
  • baking-ovens
  • cooking-stoves “without number”
  • kegs
  • barrels
  • harness
  • clothing
  • bacon
  • beans
These, he said, “were found along the road in pretty much the order in which they have been here enumerated…In the course of this one day [July 27, 1849] the relics of 17 wagons and the carcasses of 27 dead oxen have been seen.”  (Arrington, p. 70)

The needs of the 49er’s traveling through Salt Lake greatly inflated the prices of goods the Mormons could offer them, as well.

The infusion of money to the church economy allowed the First Presidency to implement a wonderful new plan:  The Perpetual Emigration Fund.  Once again, it was October Conference 1849, when this new rescue plan was approved as the leaders asked, “Shall we fulfill the covenant, or shall we not?”  The announcement was issued by the First Presidency on October 12th, 1849:  “Ye poor and meek of the earth, lift up your heads and rejoice in the Holy One of Israel, for your redemption draweth nigh…but in your rejoicings be patient, for though your turn to emigrate may not be the first year, or even the second, it will come, and its tarrying will be short, if all the Saints who have, will be as liberal as those in the valley.”

The first PEF wagon train was organized in 1850.  The first year’s funds of $5,000 were taken to Iowa, and used to purchase livestock for the journey back to Salt Lake City.  The livestock was then sold, and that money was taken back to Iowa and the process repeated.  After just one year of operation, the PEF had nearly $20,000.

In 1852, 10,000 saints came to Utah from the Missouri River area, and “all the exiles from Nauvoo who wished to come had been removed to Zion,” and “the obligations of the Nauvoo pledge of 1846 had been faithfully discharged.”  (Hartley, p. 9-10)

Why so hard?

It was less than 20 years later that the transcontinental railroad was completed, making overland travel so much easier.  Why did the Lord not inspire and implement the faster and easier transportation of trains at the time of the Mormon Exodus, when it was so desperately needed?

The Lord was not simply interested in getting the pioneers out west.  He was interested in making saints of the pioneers.  The difficult process of gathering to Zion provided a refining process.  Not all made the cut:  Scattered along the Mormon Trail are not only the graves of those who died getting to the earthly Zion, but many casualties of spiritual infirmities.  Some saints gave up and stayed behind or turned back along the way.  Those who pushed through the challenges of conversion, persecution and migration could weather any storm.  Part of this refining process was brought about by the great effort required of the saints to rescue each other and bring all to Zion while in poverty themselves.

The Rescue Today

It is not enough for us today to be converted ourselves, or to reach financial prosperity ourselves.  After his terrible ordeal on the Brooklyn, his building role in San Francisco, his gathering with the saints in Salt Lake City, and his contributions to the Church funds, Alondus Buckland returned overland with a great deal of his money, fulfilled a mission in the east, and then returned as captain of a wagon train of 200 people, including his friends, converts and family members who had not been able to afford passage on the Brooklyn, financing much of their supplies himself.  On the return journey, he died of cholera and was wrapped in a sheet and buried in a trunk as a makeshift coffin.  He gave his all for the cause of Zion, leaving a great example for us.  (Wyatt, p. 34-37)
Alondus deLafayette Buckland

Even in our weaknesses, even in our poverty, we must turn around and rescue our brothers.  We cannot sit in our church and ignore the spiritually or physically needy.  We may not  know how their rescue will be accomplished, but if we heed the call and start along the trail, the Lord will “shower down blessings from heaven” and means will appear.  All we must do is our wholly inadequate best.

(At this point, you may be able to tell that I'm a little bit of a pioneer nerd...and I still have more to post...)

1 comment:

DLSnyder said...

Your stories and interpretation of the GD Lessons are insightful and delightful in everyway... Thank you for your time, knowledge, and scriptural expertise.