Prophet of the Latter Day Saints…

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early calling and latter days of

Joseph Smith

On this date in 1846, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — also known as the Mormons — left Illinois for the West. Their journey had begun in New York, where Joseph Smith reported that he had been visited by an angel named Moroni in 1823. Moroni had directed him to a buried cache of gold plates, on which were written the history of the Israelites. He retrieved these, and translated them with the help of two seer stones that were with them, and so wrote the Book of Mormon, on which he based a new sect of Christianity.
Smith and his followers moved to Kirtland, Ohio, in 1831, and later to Jackson County, Missouri. They were expelled from Missouri by the settlers there, and moved on again, this time to Commerce, Illinois. There they had founded their “New Zion,” a town they named Nauvoo. Smith and the Mormons presented themselves to the locals as refugees and oppressed minorities, but it wasn’t long before they ran into trouble with those that distrusted their views on polygamy and other matters. Smith petitioned Congress to make Nauvoo an independent territory. Then he declared martial law and named himself king of a theocracy. The governor ordered his arrest, but before he could go to trial, a mob broke into the jail and shot him to death in June 1844.
The Church’s new leader, Brigham Young, believed that the saints would never be accepted in the United States, and he set his sights on the Southwest, which was at that time still part of Mexico. He had originally planned to leave Nauvoo later in the spring, but the continued strife with the surrounding communities, coupled with the rumor that federal troops were headed their way, motivated him to leave earlier. Twenty-five men were appointed to lead about a hundred families each on the journey westward from Illinois, across Iowa, to Winter Quarters, Nebraska. From there, they would cross the Rocky Mountains. Young had no fixed destination in mind; he believed that God would tell him when he had arrived. Young intended the migration to occur in several stages, with “camps” throughout Iowa, and he sent scouts ahead to dig wells and plant some crops to sustain the travelers on their journey. Conditions were rough: bad roads, harsh winter weather, and diseases like tuberculosis, typhoid, cholera, and “black scurvy” discouraged many families, most of which returned to Nauvoo. But by the autumn of 1846, some 12,000 Mormons were making their temporary home in Winter Quarters.
While in Nebraska, Young did his research. He talked to any trappers or traders passing through Winter Quarters and found out all he could about the West. Mountain man Jim Bridger was particularly enthusiastic about the Great Basin area in what is now Utah. Young organized a vanguard to break the trail through the Rockies and report back on the conditions they found. As before, they would plant crops and build basic infrastructure along their way for the benefit of the pioneers that would follow. The first wagon train left Winter Quarters in April 1847, and the first vanguard reached the Salt Lake Valley that July. One of the scouts wrote, “We could not refrain from a shout of joy, which almost involuntarily escaped from our lips the moment this grand and lovely scenery was within our view.” Young himself first glimpsed the valley three days later, and said, “This is the right place.” Within a week, he had preliminary plans for the layout of a city, and had chosen a location on which to build a new temple. But the goal of escaping to Mexico to get away from American interference was only briefly met; Utah became a U.S. territory in February 1848. For his role in the exodus of the Latter-day Saints, Brigham Young is sometimes called “the American Moses.”

sometimes, God’s plans for a prophet are bigger even than death

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