Teach the children about Brigham Young becoming the leader of the Church and leading the Saints out of Nauvoo, as described in the following historical accounts and the scriptures listed in the “Preparation” section. Show the picture of the exodus from Nauvoo at an appropriate time.
Brigham Young Becomes the Leader of the Church
After Joseph Smith was murdered, the Saints in Nauvoo were very sad and worried. The Prophet and the Patriarch (Hyrum Smith) were dead, and most of the members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles were away on missions. Joseph Smith had written to the Apostles in June 1844 and asked them to come back to Nauvoo, but the Apostles did not receive these letters until after the Prophet had been killed. The Apostles all came back to Nauvoo as soon as they heard of the Prophet’s death. The Nauvoo City Council instructed the Saints to “be peaceable, quiet citizens, doing the works of righteousness” until the Apostles returned and gave them further directions (History of the Church, 7:152). William W. Phelps, a city councilman who was also Church publisher and the Prophet’s scribe, helped keep the city calm.
Sidney Rigdon, who had been First Counselor to Joseph Smith in the First Presidency of the Church, had become displeased with the Church and had moved to Pennsylvania against the wishes of the Lord (see D&C 124:108–110). However, when he heard about the death of the Prophet, Sidney returned to Nauvoo. He felt that because he had been in the First Presidency, it was his right to be the next leader of the Church. Before all the Apostles returned to Nauvoo, Sidney was able to convince some people that he should lead the Church. When all the members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles were back in Nauvoo, they met with Sidney, who told them why he should be leader of the Church. Brigham Young, who was then President of the Quorum of the Twelve, declared that he wanted to find out what the Lord wanted them to do. He said:
“I do not care who leads the church, … but one thing I must know, and that is what God says about it. I have the keys and the means of obtaining the mind of God on the subject. …
“Joseph conferred upon our heads all the keys and powers belonging to the Apostleship which he himself held before he was taken away, and no man or set of men can get between Joseph and the Twelve in this world or in the world to come” (History of the Church, 7:230).
At a meeting of the Church on 8 August 1844, Sidney Rigdon gave an hour-and-a-half-long speech on why he should be the leader of the Church. Brigham Young then gave a short talk, and while he spoke a miracle occurred. To the people in the audience, Brigham Young suddenly looked and sounded like Joseph Smith. Zina Huntington said of this experience: “President Young was speaking. It was the voice of Joseph Smith—not that of Brigham Young. His very person was changed. … I closed my eyes. I could have exclaimed, I know that is Joseph Smith’s voice! Yet I knew he had gone.” George Q. Cannon said, “It was the voice of Joseph himself; … it seemed in the eyes of the people as though it was the very person of Joseph which stood before them.” Wilford Woodruff declared, “If I had not seen him with my own eyes, there is no one that could have convinced me that it was not Joseph Smith speaking” (quoted in Church History in the Fulness of Times, p. 292).
Cornelius and Permelia Lott, who ran Joseph Smith’s farm just outside Nauvoo and who had seen the Prophet frequently, attended the meeting with their children. When Brigham Young got up to speak, eleven-year-old Alzina Lott thought he was Joseph Smith, and she turned to her mother, Permelia, and said, “Mama, I thought the Prophet was dead.” Her mother answered, “He is[,] Alzina, and this is the way our Heavenly Father has told us who is to be our next leader and Prophet” (quoted in Descendants of Cornelius Peter Lott, pp. 10–11).
That afternoon the members of the Church held another meeting. Brigham Young said at the meeting, “If the people want President Rigdon to lead them they may have him; but I say unto you that the Quorum of the Twelve have the keys of the kingdom of God in all the world” (History of the Church, 7:233). These keys, or rights to use the authority of the priesthood, were given to each member of the Quorum of the Twelve by Joseph Smith before he died. The members of the Church voted unanimously to sustain the Twelve Apostles as their leaders.
Sidney Rigdon was not willing to admit that the Twelve Apostles had greater authority than he had, and he continued to try to obtain leadership over the Church until he was excommunicated in September 1844. He organized his own church, but it lasted only a few years.
Through the miracle of the transformation of Brigham Young, the Saints learned that after the Prophet died, the power and authority to lead the Church were held by the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Three and a half years later Brigham Young, the senior Apostle and President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, was set apart as the new President of the Church. Today when the prophet dies, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles leads the Church. The senior Apostle (the man who has been an Apostle the longest) is then set apart as the new President of the Church.
The Saints Prepare to Move West
In 1842 Joseph Smith had told the Saints, “Some of you will live to go and assist in making settlements and build cities and see the Saints become a mighty people in the midst of the Rocky Mountains” (History of the Church, 5:85). The Saints began making plans to move west in the spring of 1844, and the Twelve Apostles continued this planning as soon as they were sustained as the presiding authority of the Church. They planned for the Saints to leave in April 1846, which would give them time to finish building the Nauvoo Temple and provide endowments and sealings for the members before they left. However, Brigham Young and eight other Apostles were accused of a false charge of counterfeiting, and some Saints heard a false rumor that federal troops would not allow them to move west but planned to kill them instead. These incidents made the Saints anxious to leave Illinois as soon as possible.
The first groups left Nauvoo in early February 1846, and the Apostles themselves left in mid-February. Church leaders had planned to have other groups leave during the late winter and spring, but many of the Saints did not want to remain in Nauvoo after the Apostles had left, so they started out before they should have and before they were properly prepared.
Members of the Church who did not leave with the first groups tried to sell their property in Nauvoo so they could buy supplies to move west. People from the surrounding areas came to Nauvoo to buy property at very low prices. One woman was offered ten dollars for her house and twenty acres of land. She felt this price was too low, but the buyer knew she was eager to leave, so he would not pay any more money. Many of the Saints traded their land and furniture for horses, wagons, and cattle, traveling up to a hundred miles from Nauvoo to find cattle to buy.
All the houses in Nauvoo were used as workshops for building wagons. Supplies needed for a family of five in the first group to leave included one strong wagon, two or three yoke of oxen, a thousand pounds of flour, a musket or rifle for each man, twenty-five pounds of salt, twenty pounds of soap, and four or five fishhooks and lines. Many families contained more than five people and thus needed even more supplies.
The first part of the journey to the Salt Lake Valley was very difficult for the first groups of pioneers. It took them 131 days to travel 300 miles across Iowa. A year later another group of pioneers took only 111 days to travel the 1050 miles from Iowa all the way to the Great Salt Lake Valley.
The Battle of Nauvoo and the Miracle of the Quail
Some members of the Church stayed in Nauvoo through the summer. Some of these people wanted to harvest crops and try to sell their property; others were immigrants recently arrived from the East who were too late to join the earlier companies of pioneers. Most of these immigrants had used all their money just to reach Nauvoo.
In September 1846 about eight hundred anti-Mormon men with six cannons began to attack the people left in Nauvoo. After a few days of fighting, the anti-Mormons forced the Saints to leave Nauvoo. Five men and their families were allowed to stay to try to sell the Church members’ property. The rest left at once without any extra clothing or supplies. Most of these people crossed the Mississippi River and formed camps on the Iowa side. Some of the people were too sick to travel, and many were too poor to buy the necessary supplies to move on. Most had only blankets or branches for shelter and only corn to eat.
One day a miracle occurred. Thousands of small birds called quail flew into the camps. The quail were everywhere. Even though the people in the camps were weak from hunger and illness, they easily caught many quail. The quail were delicious to eat, and they provided much-needed food for the starving Saints.
When Brigham Young heard about the Saints in these camps, he sent people with wagons and supplies to bring the people in the camps to other camps throughout Iowa where most of the other Saints were staying for the winter.