MOVING ON FROM TRAGEDY
When the Prophet Joseph Smith was killed, most of the apostles were on missions to the eastern United States, including Parley P. Pratt. The only two in Illinois were Willard Richards and John Taylor, both of whom had been with Joseph and Hyrum at Carthage. Parley was the first to return, having been “constrained by the Spirit” to head back to Nauvoo from New York before he had planned to. While on a canal boat, enroute,
“…a strange and solemn awe came over me, as if the powers of hell were let loose. I was so overwhelmed with sorrow I could hardly speak; and after pacing the deck for some time in silence, I turned to my brother William and exclaimed—'Brother William, this is a dark hour; the powers of darkness seem to triumph, and the spirit of murder is abroad in the land, and it controls the hearts of the American people, and a vast majority of them sanction the killing of the innocent.' ……This was June 27th, 1844, in the afternoon, and as near as I can judge, it was the same hour that the Carthage mob were shedding the blood of Joseph and Hyrum Smith, and John Taylor, near one thousand miles distant.”
All of the other members of the quorum reported feeling a terrible sadness on that day. In Wisconsin, passengers boarded the boat Parley was on, gloating over the news that Joseph and Hyrum had been killed. When Parley got off in Chicago, he found a great hubbub as the press was issuing extras “announcing the triumph of the murderous mob in killing the Smiths.”
“I felt so weighed down with sorrow and the powers of darkness that it was painful for me to…speak to any one, or even to try to eat or sleep. I really felt that if it had been my own family who had died, and our beloved Prophet been spared alive, I could have borne it…I had loved Joseph with a warmth of affection indescribable for about 14 years. I had associated with him in private and in public, in travels and at home, in joy and sorrow, in honor and dishonor, in adversity of every kind…But now he was gone to the invisible world, and we and the Church of the Saints were left to mourn in sorrow and without the presence of our beloved founder and Prophet.
“As I walked along over the plains of Illinois, lonely and solitary, I reflected as follows: …in a day or two I shall be there. How shall I meet the sorrowing widows and orphans? How shall I meet the aged and widowed mother…? How shall I console and advise 25,000 people who will throng about me in tears, and in the absence of my President and the older members of the now-presiding council, will ask counsel at my hands? …When I could endure it no longer, I cried aloud, saying: O Lord! In the name of Jesus Christ I pray Thee, show me what these things mean, and what I shall say to Thy people? On a sudden the Spirit of God came upon me, and filled my heart with joy and gladness indescribable, and while the spirit of revelation glowed in my bosom with as visible a warmth and gladness as if it were fire, the Spirit said unto me: ‘Lift up your head and rejoice; for behold! It is well with my servants Joseph and Hyrum…Go and say unto my people in Nauvoo, that they shall continue to pursue their daily duties and take care of themselves, and make no movement in Church government to reorganize or alter anything until the return of the remainder of the Quorum of the Twelve. But exhort them that they continue to build the House of the Lord…’
At a time of great trial, the commandment to Parley was to “lift up your head and rejoice,” and the comforting presence of the Spirit made it possible to obey that commandment. “Lift” is a verb, requiring action. To lift your head would imply that you would be looking upward, towards heaven, or seeing with an eternal perspective. It would also imply that you would be looking forward at what to do next, rather than backward in regret. When you lift up your head symbolically, rejoicing then will naturally follow.
WE ARE COMMANDED TO CHOOSE JOY
Candy Jars Guessing Game: Prepare small jars with the following numbers of candies such as M&Ms in them: 13, 195, 117, 197, 351, 410. Write the words below on the chalkboard (without the corresponding numbers). Ask class members to write on their paper scraps how many times they think each word is found in the scriptures. Then tell them the jars of M&Ms correspond to each word. The closest guess to each word count wins the jar with that number of M&Ms. For extra insight into latter-day church history, I have included in parentheses how many of those are found in the D&C.
Sad/Sadness --13 (1 in D&C)
*Half of these refer to the wicked. The others counsel saints regarding sorrow, promise no sorrow, or are prayers offered in behalf of the sorrowing saints.
The message is clear: The gospel is a message of gladness.
2 Nephi 2:25 – “Adam fell that men might be, and men are that they might have joy.” Ours is a doctrine of rejoicing.
D&C 133:42-44 – “O Lord, thou shalt come down to make thy name known to thine adversaries, and all nations shall tremble at thy presence— When thou doest terrible things, things they look not for; Yea, when thou comest down, and the mountains flow down at thy presence, thou shalt meet him who rejoiceth and worketh righteousness, who remembereth thee in thy ways.” This scripture gives a definition of saints caught up to meet Christ in the last days: They are 1) rejoicing, 2) working righteousness, 3) remembering Christ and his ways.
D&C 112:4 – “Let thy heart be of good cheer before my face; and thou shalt bear record of my name, not only unto the Gentiles, but also unto the Jews; and thou shalt send forth my word unto the ends of the earth.” This scripture implies that you must be of good cheer to be a missionary.
D&C 107:22-24 – “Of the Melchizedek Priesthood, three Presiding High Priests, chosen by the body, appointed and ordained to that office, and upheld by the confidence, faith, and prayer of the church, form a quorum of the Presidency of the Church. The twelve traveling councilors are called to be the Twelve Apostles, or special witnesses of the name of Christ in all the world—thus differing from other officers in the church in the duties of their calling. And they form a quorum, equal in authority and power to the three presidents previously mentioned.” This revelation told the saints that the Quorum of Twelve Apostles had all the authority needed to run the Church in Joseph's absence.
THE MISSISSIPPI PIONEERS
And so Brigham Young led the saints west. Although he fully intended to make the trek in 1846, they actually began April 8, 1847, for reasons noted below.
He was called back to Nauvoo after the martyrdom to work on the Temple. When the 1846 exodus began, John was sent back to Mississippi to gather the saints there into the fold and help them cross the plains. He left for Mississippi (a 1,000-mile trip) in January in snow and storm. He collected 43 people and 19 wagons and they left their homes on April 8th. His father-in-law, William Crosby, led the train.
In Independence, they heard wild rumors about Mormons committing atrocities on the Oregon Trail, so they assumed the saints had gone west. They joined with a six-wagon party of Oregon Trailers at Independence and picked up a few other Latter-day Saints and headed out across the plains to meet Brigham Young. They got to the Platte River and there was no Brigham Young. They stopped for one day to think it over, and decided he must have gone on and they pressed full speed ahead to catch up. They suffered all kinds of difficulties, but made it nearly halfway to the Great Basin before they found out that there were no Mormons ahead of them on the trail (Leonard J. Arrington, “Mississippi Mormons,” Ensign, June 1977; also Richard E. Bennett, We’ll Find the Place, p. 172-173).
Now, of course, Brigham Young had fully intended to go west that year, 1846, in an advance wagon train, but the saints didn't want him to leave them; they tried to keep up with him, and by doing so, they slowed him greatly.
Arriving back at Winter Quarters, John Brown received word from Brigham Young not to bring the rest of the converts still in Mississippi west that year. Instead he was to handpick a few strong men to join Brigham’s vanguard company which would be traveling west that spring. So John headed south, in January again, where he picked 4 white men and 4 Black men who were enslaved to them. Two of the Black men died along the way (Arrington). The two remaining were brothers Oscar Crosby, 32, and Hark Lay, 22. They had different last names because they had different masters. Oscar “belonged” to John’s father-in-law, William Crosby, and had been converted through James Brown’s missionary efforts (the Battalion Leader). William Crosby had shared the gospel with the Lays, Hark’s masters. (Margaret Blair Young and Darius Aidan Gray, One More River to Cross, p. 257. Note: I highly recommend this trilogy of books about early Black Latter-day Saints: Standing on the Promises.. Darius Gray is a past president of the Church's Genesis group for Black members, started in 1973 before the removal of the priesthood ban.)
At Winter Quarters, the two were joined by another Black slave, 19-year-old Green Flake, who was a friend of theirs, and had gone to Nauvoo with his master, James Flake. Green had been baptized at the age of 16 by John Brown.
Actually, it was quite remarkable for that time that the missionaries even taught the gospel to Black slaves (with the permission of their masters); it was remarkable that they considered them children of God. Sadly they generally were not considered as quite the same class, though, even after they joined the Church. For instance, while white saints were called by their last names (Sister Smith), Black saints were called by their first (Sister Jane), following the manner of address given to slaves and servants. Still, many Church members loved their “servants” almost as dearly as family members.
When Green Flake’s master left the south for Nauvoo upon his baptism, he offered freedom to all of his slaves, but Green chose to remain with him as a slave, along with two of his friends. Later in life, Green Flake became a (free) servant of Brigham Young’s (Young/Gray, p. 256).
Hark, true to his name, had a beautiful singing voice, and he and Green would often sing together. The Negro Spirituals floated across the plains, along with “Come, Come, Ye Saints?” Hark would also dance a mean jig to the music of the fiddle playing in the evenings (Young/Gray).
The names of Green Flake, Hark Lay, and Oscar Crosby are immortalized as members of the first Mormon pioneer company on the Brigham Young monument which was first displayed at the Chicago World’s Fair (Wikipedia), then was installed in downtown Salt Lake City, Utah at the intersection of Main and South Temple Streets, and now sits at the entrance to This Is The Place State Park.
After helping plant and build and settle, John Brown and his party headed back east on August 26 to get the rest of the Mississippi Saints, traveling with Brigham Young as far as Winter Quarters. Once again, John Brown arrived in Mississippi in the dead of winter--December this time--and immediately made preparations to cross the plains for the fifth time in less than two years. He and his converts left Mississippi on March 10, 1848. There were 13 families, including 56 white saints and 34 Black. They arrived in Salt Lake City in October, bringing the total population of the Valley to about 200 white and 37 Black Mississippi saints.
The first Mormon community in Utah outside of Salt Lake City was settled by these Saints. It was called Cottonwood and is presently called Holladay after one of the Mississippians who was bishop there. In March of 1851, the Mississippi Saints were sent to colonize Southern California with Charles Rich. They founded the city of San Bernadino. Later, many of them helped colonize Southern Utah and Arizona as well.
The Mississippi Saints were classy, as well as being hard workers. They raised the level of frontier society with their Southern drawl, hospitality, and etiquette. They were also excellent record keepers and even recorded funny incidents.
Very likely the first Black teacher of white children in the United States was a Mormon, Alice Rowan Johnson, who taught in Riverside, California, and was the daughter of two of the enslaved people who had come west with John Brown (Arrington).
The road west was rough for the Mormon pioneers, no doubt. But “while many wept at the inexplicable tragedy of it all, others chose deliberately to wear a happier face. ‘How can I go without you?’ inquired Irene Hascall of her non-supportive parents in New England. “Or how can you stay behind?...Do not worry anything about it, there will be some way. I suppose father would not like to travel across the Rocky Mountains but I should think he might like it real well for he can hunt all the way. I think probably [we] will cross the Rocky Mountains to a healthier climate. What good times we will have journeying and pitching our tents like the Israelites” (Bennett, p. 23). Irene was a happy camper.
Helen Mar Whitney was buoyed by the beauties of nature as she trekked. “This day the sky was cloudless and beautiful, and I was happy…Our tent was pitched on a gentle slope, and below, some distance away, was a crystal stream of water babbling over the rocks down through a little grove of trees and willows, where I accompanied [my husband] Horace the next day, Sunday, to fish, taking along our books to read. This was his favorite pastime, and in which he indulged every opportunity. This was the most delightful spot we had seen, the whole landscape around us was lovely, they called it rolling prairie, and it had such a variety of hills and dales, all dressed anew in their bright velvety robes of spring.
“The first morning I took an early stroll to enjoy the scene, and I was almost enchanted as I stood there alone gazing at the glorious sight as the sun was peeping over the hills—and to lend more to the scene of enchantment here came a beautiful fawn and also an antelope, skipping fearlessly over hill and dale and out of sight, with naught to disturb them nor the peace and tranquility of my thoughts…” (Helen Mar Whitney, A Woman’s View,p. 363-364).
Parley P. Pratt chose joy and the presence of the Spirit at the martyrdom of Joseph Smith, when he was “weighed down as it were unto death.”
Hark Lee and Green Flake sang and danced their way across the plains, though they were slaves.
Helen Mar Whitney chose to rejoice in nature, rather than whine about sore feet.
We would do well to carry the optimism after tragedy that these saints possessed. Paraphrasing the words of Irene Hascall, “[We] would if [we] could see the future.”