The history of the early pioneers of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—which church is sometimes inadvertently called the Mormon Church—is teeming with inspiring stories of courage, sacrifice, industry, and a willingness to give everything to build the Kingdom of God on the earth. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir is donating a commemorative historical marker to tell the story of one such group of early pioneers: the Wisconsin loggers whose sacrifice and labor helped to build Nauvoo, Illinois.

Nauvoo, sometimes called the city of Joseph, was central to the heritage of The Church of Jesus Christ. The historical marker will be built at the Trail of Honor Park in Black River Falls, Wisconsin. It will sit near the mills where Latter-day Saints harvested more than one and a half million board-feet of lumber and then floated it down the Black River to Nauvoo some 400 miles away. The Choir will dedicate the site June 19, 2013. Ron Jarrett, president of the Choir, said:

The sacrifices of these logging pioneers are not well known, even among Church members. We wanted to honor these unsung heroes by singing their praises. [1]

Settling in Nauvoo

Quote by Keith Stepan, "When the Saints built the first Nauvoo temple they gave it their all. They sacrificed in the poverty to help pay for materials and they donated much of the labor."At the beginning of 1839, the early members of The Church of Jesus Christ were being forcefully evicted from their homes in Missouri under threat of violence. They found refuge in Illinois and were able to purchase land along the banks of the Mississippi, including a small town called Commerce. There were only a handful of dwellings at the time, and the land was swampy. The Prophet Joseph Smith, the first president of The Church of Jesus Christ, renamed the town Nauvoo, a Hebrew word meaning “beautiful.” The pioneers drained the swamp, platted the land, and began building up the towns. The state Legislature granted the Nauvoo Charter, which gave the Latter-day Saints the right to establish the local government as well as a local militia, a municipal court, and a university. The Prophet Joseph extended a call to members of the Church to gather to the area, and they came by the thousands. [2]

Between 1839 and 1846, Nauvoo grew from “a humble town with one stone house and a few poorly constructed cabins to a metropolitan city rivaling the population of Chicago.” During this period of rapid growth, the Latter-day Saint pioneers built more than 2,500 homes as well as countless other business establishments, including stores, mills, and public and Church buildings. [1] The Latter-day Saints were also encouraged to beautify their homes and their city by planting and cultivating trees, vines, and bushes. [3] The most ambitious architectural projects were the Nauvoo House (which was a large hotel built to accommodate strangers who came to the city to learn about the Latter-day Saints) and the Nauvoo Temple—the Latter-day Saints’ place of worship. [1]

Mission to the Wisconsin Pineries

The decision to construct both the Nauvoo House and the Nauvoo Temple at the same time greatly increased the need for more lumber. However, lumber was scarce in the area, and imported lumber was too expensive for the Latter-day Saint pioneers’ limited financial resources. Church leaders received reports that they could obtain quality, inexpensive lumber in Wisconsin. Thus, the decision was made to send men up there to establish sawmills. A small contingent of 32 pioneers traveled to Wisconsin in September of 1841, and within four years an estimated 200 Church members were working in the mills and logging camps. Ultimately, the Church members in Wisconsin operated four sawmills and six logging camps to supply the mills. [1]

The work was difficult and the conditions were often harsh. Substantial amounts of food were required to sustain not only the people but also their livestock, which were essential to the work. The first season—before the pioneers planted gardens—the loggers’ diets mainly consisted of salt pork, flour, and potatoes as well as the game, fish, berries, and nuts when they could be found. [1]  Winters were especially hard as heavy snows made it difficult to obtain supplies. Allen Joseph Stout, who was a carpenter, wrote of his experience during the winter of 1843–44:

About the last of Mar. [1844] our provisions gave out, so as to leave us quite hungry. Some ate an ox after he had been dead three weeks and I cut of [sic] a piece and salted it and set it away but it stank so that it made me sick, and just as I was done fixing my stinking meat two sled loads of flour hove in sight so I did not eat any of that old carcas [sic]. (Dennis Rowley, “The Mormon Experience in the Wisconsin Pineries, 1841–1845,” BYU Studies, 32(1–2), p. 133.)

The pioneers “harvested an estimated one and a half million board feet of milled lumber, over two hundred thousand shingles, and an inestimable number of loose logs, hewed timber and barn boards. The short, straight and relatively mellow Black River floated a dozen lumber-laden rafts 400 miles to Nauvoo.” [1]

Through the remarkable labor and the many sacrifices of the loggers in the Wisconsin pineries, members of The Church of Jesus Christ were able to build and beautify their city. Members in the area remember the sacrifice their forebears’ made to help build a “City Beautiful” as well as a temple to their God. Mary Jurgaitis, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ who lives half a block from one of the logging sites, said:

They came here to honor God. I like to imagine the loggers’ satisfaction at the moment they came around the last bend in the Mississippi and the Nauvoo Temple was brought into their view. What a thrill that must have been for them. [1]

Additional Resources:

Picturing history: Historical marker commemorating Mormon pioneer loggers dedicated at Neillsville, Wisconsin

Black River Falls

About Lisa M.
I am a wife and mother of 4 beautiful children in a small town in the mountains of Idaho. We ski as a family in the winter and camp, fish, and go to the beach in the summer. I’m a lifelong member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and I am grateful for the Savior and the blessings of the gospel in my life.

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