The first Saints arrived in the Salt Lake Valley on July 24, 1847. President Brigham Young was in the group, but had fallen ill towards the end of the journey and had been riding in a wagon. On the 24th, President Young rode out with a small group of men to survey the country before declaring their journey was at an end. It was another eleven years before the distressed handcart companies would arrive in the valley. The Saints who made this journey were put through the refiner’s fire. They made immense sacrifices to help build and protect their faith and the Kingdom of God on the earth. Their sacrifices are not forgotten.
Account of Wilford Woodruff on July 24, 1847.
“On the twenty-fourth I drove my carriage, with President Young lying on a bed in it, into the open valley, the rest of the company following. When we came out of the canyon, into full view of the valley, I turned the side of my carriage around, open to the west, and President Young arose from his bed and took a survey of the country. While gazing on the scene before us, he was enwrapped in vision for several minutes. He had seen the valley before in vision, and upon the occasion he saw the future glory of Zion and Israel, as they would be, planted in the valleys of the mountains. When the vision had passed, he said, ‘It is enough. This is the right place. Drive on.’ So I drove to the encampment already formed by those who had come along in advance of us.”
Account taken from Journal of the Trail, Glazier and Clark, 1997, p177–178.
Account of Former Handcart Company Member
Years after the handcart companies had arrived in Salt Lake, a group of people in Cedar City were heard discussing the disaster of the handcart companies who had left later in the year 1856. They spoke critically of the Church and its leaders for permitting those companies to start so late.
“One old man in the corner sat silent and listened as long as he could stand it. Then he arose and said things that no person who heard will ever forget. His face was white with emotion, yet he spoke calmly, deliberately, but with great earnestness and sincerity.
“He said in substance, ‘I ask you to stop this criticism. You are discussing a matter you know nothing about. Cold historic facts mean nothing here for they give no proper interpretation of the questions involved. A mistake to send the handcart company out so late in the season? Yes. But I was in that company and my wife was in it and Sister Nellie Unthank whom you have cited was there too. We suffered beyond anything you can imagine and many died of exposure and starvation, but did you ever hear a survivor of that company utter a word of criticism? Not one of that company ever apostatized or left the Church because every one of us came through the the absolute knowledge that God lives, for we became acquainted with him in our extremities.’
“‘I have pulled my handcart when I was so weak and weary from illness and lack of food that I could hardly put one foot ahead of the other. I have gone on [to some point I thought I could never reach, only to feel that] the cart began pushing me. I have looked back many times to see who was pushing my cart, but my eyes saw no one. I knew then that the angels of God were there.'”
From a manuscript which was in the possession of President Hinckley in 1997. Account quoted from Journal of the Trail, Glazier and Clark, 1997, p187–188.
Remarks of President Gordon B. Hinckleyat October 1991 General Conference Regarding Sacrifices of Saints and the Church’s Current Mission
“I wish to remind everyone within my hearing that the comforts we have, the peace we have, and, most important, the faith and knowledge of the things of God that we have, were bought with a terrible price by those who have gone before us. Sacrifice has always been a part of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The crowning element of our faith is our conviction of our living God, the Father of us all, and of His Beloved Son, the Redeemer of the world. It is because of our Redeemer’s life and sacrifice that we are here. It is because of His sacrificial atonement that we and all of the sons and daughters of God will partake of the salvation of the Lord. . . .
“In our own helplessness, He becomes our rescuer, saving us from damnation and bringing us to eternal life. In times of despair, in seasons of loneliness and fear, He is there on the horizon to bring succor and comfort and assurance and faith. he is our King, our Savior, our Deliverer, our Lord and our God.
“Those on the high, cold plains of Wyoming came to know Him in their extremity as perhaps few come to know Him. But to every troubled soul, every man or woman in need, to those everywhere who are pulling heavy burdens through the bitter storms of life, He has said, ‘Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart; and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.’ (Matt. 11:28–30.)
“Now, I am grateful that today none of our people are stranded on the Wyoming highlands. But I know that all about us there are many who are in need of help and who are deserving of rescue. Our mission in life, as followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, must be a mission of saving. There are the homeless, the hungry, the destitute. Their condition is obvious. We have done much. We can do more to help those who live on the edge of survival. . . . It is not those on the high plains of Wyoming that we need be concerned with today. It is with many immediately around us, in our families, in our wards and stakes, in our neighborhoods and communities. ‘And the Lord called his people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them.’ (Moses 7:18.) If we are to build that Zion of which the prophets have spoken and of which the Lord has given mighty promise, we must set aside our consuming selfishness. We must rise above our love for comfort and ease, and in the very process of effort and struggle, even in our extremity, we shall become better acquainted with our God.
“Let us never forget that we have a marvelous heritage received from great and courageous people who endured unimaginable suffering and demonstrated unbelievable courage for the cause they loved. You and I know what we should do. God help us to do it when it needs to be done.”
Account quoted from Journal of the Trail, Glazier and Clark, 1997, p188–189.