My daughter, Morag, has always maintained (with a twinkle in her eye) that Heavenly Father has a sense of humor. The following circumstance supports that, I believe.
On July 22, 1857, a great number of the Saints began a pilgrimage up Cottonwood Canyon to Silver Lake. Their purpose was to celebrate Pioneer Day together — to mark 10 years since the first pioneers had entered the valley.
An enterprise involving 2,487 people, 468 carriages and wagons, and more than a thousand horses and mules had to be well-organized. Three boweries had been prepared, with plank floors for dancing and five different bands tuning up to do the honors. And there were numerous choirs that were prepared to celebrate the occasion with song.
The people were happy and united in a feeling of gratitude to their God. The Stars and Stripes rose and fell on the cool canyon breeze. There were strains of music here and there and the sound of children’s laughter as parents visited and watched the programs that had been prepared.
One special attraction was Capt. John W. Young’s company of light infantry, which was composed of 50 boys between the ages of 10 and 12. In new uniforms, their heads held high, they were referred to as "The Hope of Israel," and they knew what that meant. They were proud to be known as Mormon boys.
The festivities were going strong at high noon when four dusty, weary travelers arrived in the camp and went immediately into conference with Brigham Young. There was instant tension among the people. Something was amiss. But what could be wrong?
They could not imagine the news they were given when the brethren came out of their tent. The Saints’ mail contract was canceled, a new governor had been appointed by the president of the United States to rule over them, and he was on his way even now — with a force of 2,500 soldiers to back him up.
There was the stillness of horrified disbelief on the faces of the hundreds of men and women who had suffered and sacrificed time after time, then followed their leaders into the unknown, through wastes and wilderness, to find this new home. Many of them had left cherished loved ones behind in shallow graves. And now? Could the nightmare really have followed them all this way?
President Young remembered. He had been granted precisely what he had asked for, and not a day more. The irony of the occasion did not escape him. He wrote, "The day I entered Salt Lake Valley 24 July 1847 I remarked — if the devil will let us alone for 10 years — we will bid them defiance. July 24 1857 — 10 years to a day — I first heard of the intended expedition to Utah under Genl. Harney. I feel the same now. I defy all the powers of darkness" (see “Secretary’s Journal,” Aug. 20, 1857).
President Young entertained no doubts; his entire life had prepared him for this emergency. He knew the truths and eternal ways of the kingdom, they were engraved like letters of fire upon his soul.
"I do not wish men to understand that I had anything to do with our being moved here," he told the people. "That was the providence of the Almighty. It was the power of God that wrought out salvation for this people. I never could have devised such a plan" (see "Discourses of Brigham Young," by John A. Widstoe, p. 481-82).
On another occasion he said, "The Lord wished us to gather to this place. He wished us to cultivate the earth, and make these valleys like the Garden of Eden and build a temple as soon as circumstances would permit" (see “Journal History of Brigham Young," Feb. 14, 1853).
So of course, there was no hesitation, and President Young let the government authorities understand that he expected the constitutional rights of his people to be maintained. Mobs would not again despoil them of their homes and lands. With a scorched-earth policy, the Mormons would level their precious cities if they had to with their own hands.
The Saints had nothing for which to be apologetic. Did they not maintain the most ardent support of the Constitution? "We mean to sustain the Constitution of the United States and all righteous law," President Young announced in a public address and as recorded in "The Life Story of Brigham Young," by Susa Young Gates and Leah D. Widstoe. "I say if there is one portion of the people belonging to the Government of United States who love, revere, and hold sacred the Constitution more than any other, it is the Latter-day Saints. They understand its true worth."
Time after time such statements were made by Mormon leaders. And they were followed up by action. Had not the people sent off 500 of their young men to the Mormon Battalion — men desperately needed to carry wives and children across the plains? As Susa Young states in "The Life Story of Brigham Young," "Mob-driven, despoiled, and already in the Indian’s uncharted western domain he appealed loyally to his Government to help subdue the wilderness through peaceful means. Brigham Young had asked for bread. The Government, as usual, handed him a stone."
When the Mormon Battalion headed out on July 20, 1846, on what would be a 2,000-mile march, Brigham Young counseled them and as recorded in the "Journal of Brigham Young": "I instructed the captains to be fathers to their companies, and manage their affairs by the power and influence of their priesthood. I told them I would not be afraid to pledge my right hand that every man will return alive, if they perform their duties faithfully."
President Young's directions now to Gen. Daniel H. Wells, commander of the Nauvoo Legion, were to engage in delaying tactics: burn forage, even set fire to their trains, stampede their animals, destroy the river fords and blockade the roads — but, absolutely, take no lives.
The whole story of the Utah War is for another place than this. Here we are reminding ourselves of the nobility and faith of the people of the Lord — their patient honoring of the land of freedom that the Lord had given them — even if wicked men and blind men once more threatened their most precious rights.
"It is not in the power of the United States to destroy this people," Brigham Young told his friend, Col. Thomas L. Kane as noted in "Comprehensive Church History," "For they (the United States) are in the hands of God, and so are we; and he will do with us as he pleases, and if we do right God will preserve us."
Surely Brother Brigham earned his designation as Lion of the Lord.
Surely, too, he magnified his role as a wise leader and shepherd of the flock.
Gently he prompted his people, over and over again: "As to trials, why bless your hearts, the man or woman who enjoys the spirit of our religion has no trials cast off the yoke of the enemy, and put on the yoke of Christ, and you will say that his yoke is easy and his burden is light. This I know by experience" (see "Journal of Discourse" 16:123).
He was loved of his people. He was loved and trusted by many beyond his own. He had first loved the people, the Lord and the work, and his love never faltered.
"His presence," wrote Brigham Young’s daughter, Susa, in "The Life Story of Brigham Young," "was like light and sunshine and ‘benediction after prayer.’ ”
The Saints had the assurance in their hearts that all was safe and on course as long as Brother Brigham stood at the helm.
Susan Evans McCloud is author of more than 40 books and has published screenplays, a book of poetry and lyrics, including two songs in the LDS hymnbook. She blogs at susanevansmccloud.blogspot.com.