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Book review: 'History of the Saints' text as enriching as the art is beautiful

Published: Sunday, Nov. 11 2012 5:00 a.m. MST

"History of the Saints: The Great Mormon Exodus and the Establishment of Zion" is by Glenn Rawson, Dennis Lyman, Bryant Bush and Willaim G. Hartley, general editor.

Covenant Communications

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"HISTORY OF THE SAINTS: The Great Mormon Exodus and the Establishment of Zion," by Glenn Rawson, Dennis Lyman, Bryant Bush and William G. Hartley, general editor, Covenant Communications, $39.99, 282 pages (nf)

If a reader can count the amount of new facts to be gained about the mid-1800s Mormon movement west, then "History of the Saints: The Great Mormon Exodus and the Establishment of Zion" is worth the ownership.

The learning experience about the 70,000 members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that traveled on overland trails to reach the Salt Lake Valley is only enhanced by the rich artwork found on nearly every page and is continually touched with inspirational history.

It begins with a detailed two-page chronological overview of the exodus' history and continues to catch readers in the first few pages with stunning but uncommon pictures. Among them is one portraying Joseph and Hyrum Smith wrapped in blankets outside Carthage Jail after getting shot. (Some get overused, however: a well-known portrayal of a noble-looking Brigham Young, the president of the LDS Church, is found several times.)

Unless one is even close to the Leonard J. Arrington universe of Mormon academia, readers will be enriched by the history they learn after understanding the exodus' "three stages": the "Winter Exodus," "Spring Exodus" and the "very small Fall Exodus."

The Saints in fall 1846 were blessed with quail — much like Moses' Israelites. These pioneers were not the first to travel to the Rockies in Utah. Brigham Young first declared the Salt Lake Valley as "the right place" while ill in a wagon.

General conference in Kanesville, Iowa? Learn how Echo Canyon gained its name and why Joseph Smith said a "theodemocracy" is the best form of government.

Some might be more broadly known, like mountain man James Clyman having advised the Donner-Reed party not to take a new route across the salt desert. Or why the sego lily was important for the earliest Mormons. Or that Jim Bridger "was dubious as to whether the Salt Lake Valley could support a large population."

Effective timelines and diary excerpts are found throughout the book, too, be it outlines of the 1846 weather for Nauvoo and the Sugar Creek Camp to Martha Spence Heywood's description of settling a new settlement at Salt Creek — now the Juab County city of Nephi, Utah.

This work is convincing in helping readers understand the relevance of the two sayings that bookend this work: Joseph Smith's "Standard of Truth" statement to Young's declaration that the land where his people finally found peace would "become the great highway of the nations."

Rhett Wilkinson attends Utah State University and is the co-founder of Aggie BluePrint, USU's first student magazine. Previously an intern for the Deseret News, he can be reached at rhett.wilkinson@usu.edu or on Twitter: @wilklogan

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