July 1847 marked a historic time in the West.
Just three years after the death of the Prophet Joseph Smith in June 1844, the first group of Mormon pioneers reached their desert haven — descending the last mountains into the Valley of the Great Salt Lake.
The month of July is rich in highlights. The initial pioneer company of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, under Brigham Young’s leadership, pulled out of Winter Quarters on April 5. There were 143 men in the group, three women, and two children.
The company had reached Fort Bridger, where it left the Oregon Trail and followed the Hastings Cutoff that would lead through the Wasatch Range.
With only 116 miles left to go, their leader was suddenly struck ill with Colorado tick fever. As quoted in Leonard Arrington’s "American Moses": “He experienced excruciating headaches, high fever and severe aches and pains in his back and joints. He was, as he described himself, ‘almost mad with pain.’”
The brethren prayed and fasted for Brother Brigham — who, still recognizing the need for action, sent Orson Pratt, Erastus Snow and others ahead of the general group to break a road through the canyons.
The main camp, “on a high point south of the Narrows, were given their first view of the valley and the blue lake beyond. 'Each of us, without saying a word,' reported Erastus Snow, 'instinctively, as if by inspiration, raised our hats from our heads and then swinging our hats shouted, "Hosanna to God and the Lamb!’” (see "Discourse on the Utah Pioneers," reported by George F. Gibbs, and on utah.com/mormon/pioneer-trail-history).
The long stretch of empty land was lacking in timber, but the stones of the mountains could build solid stone houses and walls to fence in gardens and farmlands (see "Brigham Young: A Personal Portrait," by Susan Evans McCloud).
The wheat grass was growing six to seven feet high, but Parley Pratt guided the wagons “from about 11th East and 17th South through present Liberty Park … to an area on the east bank of the south branch of City Creek” (see utah.com/mormon/pioneer-trail-history).
As William Clayton wrote in his journal: “The brethren immediately rigged three plows and went to plowing a little northeast of the camp; another party went with spades, etc., to make a dam on one of the creeks so as to throw the water at pleasure on the field, designing to irrigate the land …," as recorded in Clayton’s Journal on July 23, 1847.
On July 23, Brigham Young and Heber Kimball had been crossing Emigration Creek the necessary 18 times, as they navigated the last miles of the journey. Now they drove down into the Salt Lake Valley together. Brigham had seen the site in dreams. He had been told of this place by the Prophet Joseph. “It was here he had seen the tent settling down from heaven and resting,” Erastus Snow later told the Saints, in a July 25, 1880, discourse, “and a voice said unto him, Here is the place where my people Israel shall pitch their tents” (see also "On the Trail in July," Ensign, July 1997).
It is fitting that this should be the day selected for the Saints to celebrate and rejoice in from that time on.
The Sabbath was observed with prayer and thanksgiving, and strict counsel that in this place, where the Lord had led his people, the Word of the Lord would be followed, and the Sabbath day strictly observed, according to the "Comprehensive History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Vol. 3" by B.H. Roberts.
Nine men were chosen to go exploring with Brigham Young, discovering the hot springs, the many rivers and creeks, and the mound-shaped peak standing alone. “I want to go there,” Brigham declared. And, when he reached the point, he stated, “This is Ensign Peak,” as recorded in the Journal of Discourses, Vol. 13,
This was a sacred place to Brigham, for he had seen it in a nighttime vision, with an angel standing atop its peak and pointing to the spot where a temple should be built. Joseph had also shown him the peak in vision, with an ensign upon it. And Joseph had said, “Build under the point where the colors fall, and you will prosper and have peace” (see Journal of Discourses, 13:85-86).
Temple endowment ordinances were performed on this mountain of the Lord, until the Endowment House and then a dedicated and sanctified temple could be built for the Saints (see "Ensign Peak: A Historical Review" by Dennis A. Wright and Rebekah E. Westrup from BYU's Religions Studies Center and online at rsc.byu.edu).
On this day Brigham, with the members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles beside him, walked to the area which was roughly at the center of the two city creeks. He waved his hand and said, “Here is the forty acres for the Temple.” Then he took it a step farther. “The city can be laid out perfectly square, north and sound, east and west” ("Wilford Woodruff: History of His Life and Labors," by Matthias F. Cowley) There was surety in Brigham’s mind on this point.
According to Brigham Young’s daughter, Susa, he also said, “Here we will build the temple of our God” (see “The Life Story of Brigham Young," by Susa Young Gates and Leah D. Widstoe).
He had seen the completed temple many times in vision, and told the Saints that he never looked upon the spot without seeing it there.
Before this momentous month slipped through their fingers and into history, a good omen of sorts took them perhaps a bit by surprise.
On this day, a detachment of the Mormon Battalion and a group of Mississippi Saints arrived in the valley. They swelled the number remarkably — to roughly 400 souls, bringing with them 300 head of cattle as well as wagons, horses, and mules, according to the "Comprehensive History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Vol. 3."
Combining efforts, they were now able to build a bowery, increase the harrows of plowed earth, planting corn, oats, potatoes, beans, and garden seed (see "Documentary History of the Church," taken in part from "Journal History of Brigham Young" manuscript entry for July 31, 1847).3 comments on this story
There were six women in the Mississippi group, twice as many as had arrived with the pioneers. How welcome they were! Strength in numbers increased faith in the fact that they could make it until greater numbers of Saints were brought from the communities in Iowa (see "Comprehensive History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Vol. 3).
But the spiritual ground was broken. One slight month, and the miracle had a foothold now. Before the year ended, nearly 2,000 members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had reached the valley. The God of Israel had protected his people, and now he was bringing them home (see “Brigham Young Settled in the Great Salt Lake Valley" on americaslibrary.gov).